U.S. News reported recently that several White House aides “said that they stopped using the White House system except for purely professional correspondence. … ‘We knew E-mails could be subpoenaed,’” said one aide.
In a new letter to White House counsel Fred Fielding, House Government and Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman reveals new e-mail communications that provide further evidence that White House employees were trying to circumvent the archives system:
New Scott Jennings E-Mails. Scott Jennings, the deputy director of political affairs in the White House, and his assistant used “gwb43.com” e-mail accounts to communicate with the General Services Administration about a partisan briefing that Mr. Jennings gave to political appointees at GSA on January 26, 2007. When Mr. Jennings’s assistant emailed the PowerPoint presentation to GSA, she wrote: “It is a close hold and we’re not supposed to be emailing it around.”
New Job Appointment E-Mails. Mr. Jennings also appears to have used his “gwb43.com” account to recruit applicants for official government positions through the “Kentucky Republican Voice,” an internet site that describes itself as “the best source for Kentucky Republican grassroots information.” One posting from May 2005 advertised 17 vacancies on assorted presidential boards and commissions. A second posting from May 2006 sought applicants for various boards within the Small Business Administration. In each case, these postings encouraged applicants to contact Mr. Jennings at his “gwb43.com” address.
New Abramoff E-Mails. Susan Ralston, who was Karl Rove’s executive assistant, invited two lobbyists working for Jack Abramoff to use her RNC e-mail account to avoid “security issues” with the White House e-mail system, writing: “I now have an RNC blackbeny which you can use to e-mail me at any time. No security issues like my WH email.” Ms. Ralston similarly wrote Mr. Abramoff: “I know [sic] have an RNC laptop at the office for political use. I can access my AOL email when necessary so if you need to send me something that I need to read, you can send to my AOL email and then call or page me to check it.”
Asked about White House policy and procedures regarding use of e-mail accounts, spokeswoman Dana Perino did not cite any specific policy or guidance issued to White House staff for the preservation of presidential records, and she acknowledged that certain officials in the White House have been given access to political e-mail accounts. In his letter to Fielding, Waxman requests “all policies, guidance, and other communications provided to White House officials regarding appropriate use of nongovernmental e-mail accounts.”
The White House e-mail system has been crafted to comply with the Presidential Records Act. Ordering White House employees to use the in-house e-mail system “is intended to establish procedures for former and incumbent Presidents to make privilege determinations.”
The irony — as Kevin Drum writes — is that by not using the White House system, staffers “using private accounts specifically to evade legitimate congressional oversight” might lose their claim to executive privilege.