Explaining Missing E-Mails, Attorney Says Rove Thought RNC Saved Them

Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff, communicated through his White House e-mail account and his Republican National Committee account.
Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff, communicated through his White House e-mail account and his Republican National Committee account. (By Gerald Herbert -- Associated Press)
By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 14, 2007

Karl Rove's personal attorney yesterday dismissed any suggestion that the White House senior adviser purposely deleted e-mail to evade scrutiny, saying that Rove was always under the impression that his messages were being saved by either the White House or the Republican National Committee.

"He has always understood that his e-mails, that his RNC and campaign e-mails, were being archived from very early in the administration," said Robert D. Luskin.

Luskin was seeking to tamp down criticism from Democrats that Rove may have been working outside the White House system to avoid scrutiny. Why Rove would have believed his RNC e-mail was being saved was uncertain. Until 2004, the RNC had a policy of deleting e-mail, including that from White House officials, after 30 days. Luskin said he was unaware why Rove believed the RNC e-mail was being saved.

The White House continued efforts yesterday to cope with the political uproar over the administration's disclosure Wednesday that e-mails dealing with official government business, including the firing of eight federal prosecutors, may have been lost because officials such as Rove were improperly using outside accounts set up by the RNC.

Democratic suspicions were further fanned by the revelation Thursday by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) that the RNC may have lost at least four years' worth of Rove's e-mails sent prior to 2005. GOP officials have said they hope to retrieve them.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters that the administration is talking to outside forensic experts about recovering missing messages. "We've seen no basis to conclude that there was any intentional wrongdoing with the use of these e-mails," she said.

Addressing a related controversy, White House officials said they could not rule out the possibility that some official White House e-mails are also missing, despite the legal requirement that the government preserve such records. An advocacy group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, issued a report this week saying about 5 million e-mails from March 2003 to October 2005 were missing from storage. Citing sources it did not reveal, the group said that then-White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers was briefed about the problem and that a plan to recover the missing e-mail has not been executed.

Asked about the assertions on Friday, Perino said she could not rule out that up to 5 million e-mails were missing. Later, administration spokesman Scott Stanzel said the White House was not sure how the group arrived at its figures or concluded the e-mails were lost.

"We are aware that some White House e-mails may not have been automatically archived" on the official server, Stanzel said. "However, we understand that such e-mails should have been preserved on backup tapes."

Late in the day, the White House allowed reporters to inspect the official White House instructions, dating to February 2001, for how staffers should handle e-mail. That manual, distributed to all White House employees, made clear that staffers "must only use the authorized e-mail system for all electronic communications" that relate to official business.

A memo that month from then-White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales told staffers that if an e-mail that is a presidential record is received on a personal account, employees must "ensure that it is preserved" by printing it or forwarding it to a White House account.

A new policy circulated by the White House this week for the first time specifies how those 22 staffers who have RNC e-mail accounts are supposed to handle messages that fall in a gray area. They have been told that if an employee is unsure whether the subject of an e-mail is official or political, the political e-mail account should be used -- and the e-mail should be saved for review to comply with presidential records law. Staff members who have political e-mail accounts must now sign a statement saying they understand the rules and will abide by them.

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