E-Mail Saga Gets Fishier

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 13, 2007; 1:42 PM

The saga of the missing White House e-mails took a turn from the deeply suspicious to the deeply, darkly suspicious yesterday as Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman disclosed the bizarre response by the Republican National Committee to early indications that consequential White House e-mails -- particularly to and from Karl Rove -- were being deleted.

From 2001 to 2004, the RNC's highly unusual "document retention" policy was to intentionally destroy all e-mails that were more than 30 days old. In the summer of 2004, due to "unspecified legal inquiries," the RNC changed its policy by allowing -- but not mandating -- the indefinite retention of e-mails sent and received by White House staffers on their RNC accounts. That was just around the time special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation of White House involvement in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity was kicking into high gear.

Then, in 2005, when RNC officials discovered that all of Rove's RNC e-mails were still getting deleted, presumably by Rove himself, they blocked his ability -- and his ability alone -- to do that. Other White House staffers could still delete at will, just not Rove.

All this stands in dramatic contrast to explicit White House rules mandating that all official White House electronic communications take place exclusively through official White House e-mail accounts, which are supposed to automatically archive everything forever.

Rove, the Bush administration's ultimate political fixer, reportedly used his RNC e-mail for the vast majority of his electronic communication in violation of those rules.

These new, largely unexplained revelations were included in an extraordinary series of letters that Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent to 17 government agencies yesterday demanding that they preserve any e-mails received from or sent to non-governmental e-mail accounts used by White House staffers.

For background on this story, see my Tuesday column, The Next Bush Scandal?, and yesterday's column, Countless White House E-Mails Deleted.

The Coverage

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "A lawyer for the Republican National Committee told congressional staff members yesterday that the RNC is missing at least four years' worth of e-mail from White House senior adviser Karl Rove that is being sought as part of investigations into the Bush administration, according to the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"GOP officials took issue with Rep. Henry Waxman's account of the briefing and said they still hope to find the e-mail as they conduct forensic work on their computer equipment. But they acknowledged that they took action to prevent Rove -- and Rove alone among the two dozen or so White House officials with RNC accounts -- from deleting his e-mails from the RNC server. Waxman (D-Calif.) said he was told the RNC made that move in 2005. . . .

"E-mails from Rove and other White House officials potentially figure in a number of congressional investigations. . . .

"The RNC yesterday turned over to the White House a copy of e-mail records for administration officials still on the RNC server to determine whether any of them are privileged or whether they can be provided to congressional investigators. Officials indicated that they would include post-2005 e-mails from Rove.

"GOP officials said they are also trying to determine whether they can recover other e-mail that may have been deleted through regular purges of e-mails or by deliberate deletion by White House staff. Waxman said the RNC indicated that it had destroyed all e-mail records from White House officials in 2001, 2002 and 2003."

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