View Full Version : Countless White House E-mails Deleted

04-13-2007, 03:45 PM
Countless White House E-Mails Deleted


By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, April 12, 2007; 11:24 AM

Countless e-mails to and from many key White House staffers have been deleted -- lost to history and placed out of reach of congressional subpoenas -- due to a brazen violation of internal White House policy that was allowed to continue for more than six years, the White House acknowledged yesterday.

The leading culprit appears to be President Bush's enormously influential political adviser Karl Rove, who reportedly used his Republican National Committee-provided Blackberry and e-mail accounts for most of his electronic communication.

Until 2004, all e-mail on RNC accounts was routinely deleted after 30 days. Since 2004, White House staffers using those accounts have been able to save their e-mail indefinitely -- but have also been able to delete whatever they felt like deleting. By comparison, the White House e-mail system preserves absolutely everything forever, in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.

The White House yesterday said it has no idea how many e-mails have been lost.

In an afternoon conference call with reporters, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel spread the blame all around. "White House policy did not give clear enough guidance," he said. "The oversight of that wasn't aggressive enough." And individual White House staffers "did not do a good enough job of following existing preservation policy -- or seeking guidance."

Said Stanzel: "I guess the bottom line is that our policy at the White House was not clear enough for employees."

But when I asked Stanzel to read out loud the White House e-mail policy, it seemed clear enough to me: "Federal law requires the preservation of electronic communications sent or received by White House staff," says the handbook that all staffers are given and expected to read and comply with.

"As a result, personnel working on behalf of the EOP [Executive Office of the President] are expected to only use government-provided e-mail services for all official communication."

The handbook further explains: "The official EOP e-mail system is designed to automatically comply with records management requirements."

And if that wasn't clear enough, the handbook notes -- as was the case in the Clinton administration -- that "commercial or free e-mail sites and chat rooms are blocked from the EOP network to help staff members ensure compliance and to prevent the circumvention of the records management requirements."

Stanzel refused to publicly release the relevant portions of the White House staff manual and denied my request to make public the transcript of the call, which lasted more than an hour but which -- due to Stanzel's refusal or inability to provide straight answers on many issues -- raised more questions than it answered.

Stanzel said 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, such as fundraising -- and due to "logistical convenience."

Over the past six years, about 50 of the White House staffers most involved in Republican Party affairs -- including Rove and his office of political affairs -- were given RNC-issued equipment on which to conduct party business. That included laptops and Blackberries.

For Rove, a noted Blackberry addict who holds the position of senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, that would have meant switching from one device to another when alternating from White House business to Republican party business. Apparently he didn't bother.

Democrats have charged that some White House aides used non-government e-mail accounts to avoid official scrutiny of their actions. Stanzel neither confirmed nor denied that possibility: "I can't speak to people's individual practices. So I can't speak to that question."

So is anyone in trouble? Apparently not. Stanzel was careful to apportion blame widely and generically. "This issue is not the fault of one individual," he said. He refused even to acknowledge that it is the White House counsel's office that is responsible for the establishment and oversight of internal rules of conduct. The White House counsel during Bush's entire first term, of course, was Alberto Gonzales, now the embattled attorney general.

The use of non-government e-mails first became an issue about four weeks ago, when some of the e-mails turned over in a congressional investigation of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys showed that Rove deputy Scott Jennings repeatedly used an RNC e-mail address (sjennings@gwb43.com) in his official communications. One e-mail to Rove was sent to a kr@georgewbush.com address.

Since then, it's been pointed out that some of the e-mails released in the congressional investigation of now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff indicated that former Rove aide Susan Ralston made a point of keeping her communication with Abramoff off the White House e-mail servers, and on either her RNC or AOL e-mail accounts.

Stanzel was joined in the conference call by a White House lawyer who Stanzel insisted not be referred to by name. What is the penalty for violating internal White House policy, I asked? "I don't believe the staff manual contains penalties for failure to preserve," the lawyer said.

Stanzel, possibly unwittingly, offered one possible explanation for why the rule on preservation was flouted so widely: Because there was apparently no prospect of personal consequences. "There are no personal violations of the Presidential Records Act, but you can have a personal violation of the Hatch Act," he said.

The lawyer criticized the crystal-clear (to me) ban on using non-White House e-mail for official purposes as being "too concise" and described a new, more extensive White House policy that has now been issued that further clarifies the obligations of those staffers who have RNC accounts. Stanzel also described another recent change; White House staffers no longer have the ability to delete their RNC e-mail under any circumstances.

Among the many questions Stanzel ducked was this one from me: Had this never come up as an issue in the previous six years? Had no one ever raised a concern about such an obvious evasion of the most basic White House document-preservation rules? Stanzel wouldn't say.

Although Stanzel said that a review was launched several weeks ago, "in context of the U.S. attorney matter," he said the White House still has no grasp of the scale involved -- no sense of how much was lost or how irretrievably. He seemed to know little about how the RNC servers worked, and whether there was any way of forensically retrieving the deleted e-mails.

"I don't want to talk about the scope of the review except to say we hope to be thorough," Stanzel said.

Stanzel said the president has been briefed, "and he has instructed the counsel's office to do everything practical to retrieve potentially lost e-mails."

For more background, see my Tuesday column on the matter: The Next Bush Scandal?

04-13-2007, 03:48 PM
To: BigDick@whitehouse.gov
From: LittleDick@whitehouse.gov
Subject: 9/11

Hey Dick, did you make sure you deleted everything that would tie us to 9/11?


04-13-2007, 05:50 PM
To: BigDick@whitehouse.gov
From: LittleDick@whitehouse.gov
Subject: 9/11

Hey Dick, did you make sure you deleted everything that would tie us to 9/11?


LOL @ George being the little dick even though he's the prez.