Casual Lawbreaking at the White House

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 19, 2007; 1:14 PM

New evidence unearthed by House Democrats establishes that White House political adviser Karl Rove and many of his colleagues used Republican National Committee e-mail accounts for official business -- even though White House policy is clear that doing so is a violation of the Presidential Records Act.

How did such casual lawbreaking come to be so widespread? And why was it tolerated? Those are among the questions the White House has yet to answer satisfactorily.

One reason for Rove's use of the RNC e-mail account would appear to be convenience. Rove was equipped with an RNC BlackBerry very early in the Bush presidency -- and by all accounts he uses it constantly.

Another reason, suggested by White House spokesman Scott Stanzel in April, is that some people may have used their non-government accounts for official business due to "an abundance of caution" in order to avoid violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of government e-mail for overtly political purposes. A cynic could even argue that Rove and his operatives have so intertwined politics and policy in this White House that it would be understandably difficult for them to determine whether they should be using RNC or White House accounts.

Yet another possibility, of course, is that Rove and the others chose to use the RNC e-mail accounts for official business as a way to keep their e-mail from public scrutiny, which is implicit in the use of White House e-mail accounts. If that was their goal, they appear to have succeeded.

Unlike the White House, whose e-mail retention rules essentially preserve everything forever, the RNC automatically deleted most e-mails after 30 days and allowed users to manually delete whatever they felt like. The result, as I first reported in April, is that countless White House e-mails are now missing.

And as the new House Oversight Committee report points out, the White House counsel's office -- then headed by current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- was aware of these violations of e-mail policy, but chose to do nothing about it.

The Coverage

Ron Hutcheson writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Presidential adviser Karl Rove sent more than 140,000 e-mails through the Republican National Committee's computer system, circumventing a federal law intended to guarantee the preservation of presidential records, House of Representatives investigators have concluded.

"While 88 White House aides used the back-channel system, Rove was its biggest user at the White House, and more than half of his communications dealt with official business, according to an interim report by the House Oversight Committee. . . .

"White House spokesman Tony Snow declined to respond directly to the staff report, but he defended the use of the Republican Party e-mail system. He said aides used RNC equipment and the e-mail network to comply with federal laws that prohibit the use of government supplies for partisan political activity.

"'We've seen a number of times right now where people have been putting together investigations to see what sticks. They have had very little success so far. This is an administration that is very careful about obeying the law,' he said."

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "White House aides made extensive use of political e-mail accounts for official government business, despite rules requiring that they conduct such business through official communications channels, according to new evidence disclosed yesterday by congressional investigators. . . .


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