Aide's testimony shows White House violating its own e-mail policy

Michael Roston
Published: Friday August 3, 2007

The Thursday testimony of J. Scott Jennings, an aide to President George W. Bush, offered further insight into the routine violations of e-mail archiving rules by White House staff.

"I came to the White House, as you said, in 2005, and when I came, I was given two e-mail accounts as you know, and devices such as a BlackBerry and a laptop that were connected to my RNC e-mail account, and only one device, a computer desktop, connected to my official account," Jennings told Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "So, over the course of time, it became efficient and crucial for me to be able to respond to communications in a 24-7 manner."

Jennings, who serves as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Political Affairs in the White House, went on to say he continues to use his RNC e-mail account heavily for a variety of official business, such as hiring and firing US Attorneys.

"I use my RNC account for many matters, including [US Attorneys-related issues]," he said.

Jennings' remarks came after a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report from June identified him as a heavy user of an RNC e-mail account that was not properly archived.

"The RNC has reported that the first available e-mail for Scott Jennings is dated January 1, 2003," the Oversight Committee report observed. "However, the RNC has only preserved four of Mr. Jennings’s e-mails dated earlier than August 2006. In contrast, the RNC has over 35,000 e-mails sent and received by Mr. Jennings during the nine months between August 2006 and April 2007."

Aide's e-mail use differs from ex-boss's explanation
Jennings explanation for why he used his RNC e-mail account heavily differed from that of his former boss, Sara Taylor, who testified last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"[T]he reason for the e-mail account was so that I never put myself in a situation where I was violating the Hatch Act; we particularly didn't want to spend taxpayer dollars on political matters," she told the Senators. "And so as a result of that system, I had, you know, two computers, two BlackBerries, and, as somebody who just generally tried to be efficient with her time, sometimes just used the wrong computer."

In contrast, Jennings stated that he started primarily using his RNC e-mail account because his request for an official White House BlackBerry had been denied.

"I was not yet the Deputy Director, I was still an Associate Director," he said, presumably referring to the position to which he was appointed in 2005. "I was receiving a lot of e-mail on my official account. I requested at that moment, and I was told that it wasn't the custom to give political affairs staffers those devices."

While Jennings was denied an official BlackBerry as Associate Director, he has served as Deputy Director since Feb. 2006, during which time he was presumably eligible to receive the device. Much of the US Attorneys-related correspondence involving Jennings has occurred from 2006 forward.

Additionally, as the Oversight Committee reported, there is little to no e-mail on the RNC account archived from February through August 2006.

The White House's denial of an official BlackBerry to Jennings also appears immaterial to the failure of the aide to abide by policies on the proper archiving of White House e-mails set out by former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in 2001.

"[I]f you happen to receive an e-mail on a personal e-mail account that otherwise qualifies as a Presidential record, it is your duty to ensure that it is preserved and filed as such by printing it out and saving it or by forwarding it to your White House e-mail account," Gonzales wrote to White House staff in a Feb. 2001 memo.

Jennings also noted on Thursday that since the Oversight Committee began its investigation, "we have since been issued official devices."

Jennings complains of spam, hate mail on RNC account
Jennings noted in the Thursday hearing that he was no longer using the '' account found in many documents turned over to Congressional investigators as part of the US Attorneys probe. He said he had stopped using the account because of junk and hate mail.

"Sir, after the e-mail that is on this page was published in various places on the internet and other places, I received a significant amount of junk, spam, and what might otherwise be considered hate e-mail," he told Senator Leahy. "And so for those reasons we determined it was becoming overloaded and we decided to change it so it would not have to deal with that."

Jennings, ironically, had just been asked what his current e-mail address was.

"It is," he answered, committing his new 'private' address to the public record.