White House Blocks E-Mail Delivery

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, April 18, 2007; 1:28 PM

The White House yesterday hinted that it may try to assert executive privilege in denying Congressional investigators access to e-mails sent and received by White House aides on their Republican National Committee e-mail accounts.

It would be an unconventional exercise of a privilege that is controversial even in its traditional application: to protect the White House itself from subpoenas. And it would be another twist in an already peculiarly convoluted story.

In what Democrats suspect was an attempt to avoid public scrutiny, some key White House aides violated internal policy and potentially federal law by using their RNC e-mail accounts (instead of their official White House e-mail accounts) to conduct official business. Once the use of those accounts was exposed, the RNC announced that many if not most of those e-mails had been deleted. Now, the White House is saying that should any of those e-mails somehow turn up, they should not be turned over to Congress without the White House's approval.

In an April 12 letter to the RNC, Judiciary Committee Democrats requested "all e-mail communications" from government officials "in any way retrievable from the RNC servers" related to the recent termination of U.S. attorneys.

The White House sent the RNC a letter yesterday making it clear the RNC was not to comply: "We understand that once [the RNC] has reached an agreement on the appropriate search terms with the Judiciary Committee and has gathered information it believes responsive to the Letter's requests, you will provide the Office of the Counsel to the President with an opportunity to review such material before communicating it to any other person. Such review is necessary to determine, among other things, (1) whether any materials implicating the Presidential Records Act are, in fact, involved, and (2) whether, the Executive Branch may need to take measures necessary to protect its other legal interests in communications responsive to the Letter's requests."

Margaret Talev writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Democrats and Republican critics of the administration said the move suggests that the White House is seeking to develop a strategy to block the release of the non-government e-mails to congressional investigators by arguing that they're covered by executive privilege and not subject to review.

"Scott M. Stanzel, deputy White House press secretary, called the action 'reasonable' and said that any review of the e-mails would 'be conducted in a timely fashion, to balance the committee's need for the information with the extreme over breadth of their requests.' Party officials declined comment, but a GOP aide familiar with the negotiations said the RNC would comply with the White House request. . . .

"Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., who'd asked the RNC to turn over any applicable e-mails by week's end, characterized the White House's stance as an 'extreme and unnecessary' effort to block or slow the release of the e-mails. . . .

"The White House has yet to turn over internal documents and e-mails requested by Congress and has reserved the option of asserting executive privilege to protect internal communications. But Democrats say executive privilege doesn't apply to e-mails sent on non-government accounts."

Monica Goodling Watch

Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post: "Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said they are weighing an offer of immunity to a potential key witness in the investigation. . . .

"Frustrated by Monica M. Goodling's refusal to testify, committee Democrats said they may grant limited-use immunity to the former counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. . . .

"Conyers cited Goodling's dual role as Gonzales's aide and the Justice Department's liaison to the White House for the unusual immunity offer, saying she could 'clear up the many inconsistencies and gaps surrounding this matter.'"

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company