Administration: Presidential Records Evasion
Administration: Presidential Records Evasion
In recent weeks, through the congressional investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, more evidence has come to light suggesting that senior White House officials have been using political e-mail accounts provided by the Republican National Committee (RNC), apparently in an effort to evade the PRA.
|April 13, 2007|
||Presidential Records Evasion|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
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The Presidential Records Act (PRA) — 44 U.S.C. section 2203 — reads, “Through the implementation of records management controls and other necessary actions, the President shall take all such steps as may be necessary to assure” that the activities of the White House “are adequately documented.” Passed in 1978 by Congress to counteract Richard Nixon’s attempts to seal and destroy some of his papers, the PRA was intended to make Executive Branch leaders accountable by ensuring eventual public access to White House decision-making. In recent weeks, through the congressional investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, more evidence has come to light suggesting that senior White House officials have been using political e-mail accounts provided by the Republican National Committee (RNC), apparently in an effort to evade the PRA. This week, the RNC informed House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) that it had destroyed all e-mail records from White House officials in 2001, 2002, and 2003. “In 2004, the RNC exempted White House officials from its policy of purging all e-mail,” but the RNC claims the system still allowed individual users, like Karl Rove, to personally delete such records. “The White House has not done a good enough job overseeing staff using political e-mail accounts to assure compliance with the Presidential Records Act,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said. As a result, Stanzel noted that “we may not have preserved all e-mails that deal with White House business.”
WHITE HOUSE POLICY: The White House now says that roughly 50 White House officials, including 22 current aides, used e-mail accounts controlled by the RNC to send messages, including some related to the prosecutor firings. In a letter addressed to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday, Waxman revealed disturbing information he obtained from private briefings from the White House and RNC regarding the extensive volume of e-mails that may have been destroyed. Waxman said that RNC counsel Rob Kelner told him that the earliest e-mail records the RNC retains are from 2004, and the Committee only has e-mail records for 35 of the 50 White House officials that had political accounts. Moreover, Waxman said that White House officials retained the ability to delete e-mails from RNC accounts even after a policy was instituted in 2004 to retain the records. One government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, reported yesterday from confidential sources that the Executive Office of the President had lost over five million e-mails generated between March 2003 and October 2005.
ROVE WAS A SPECIAL CASE: Even though the RNC claims it began archiving e-mails in 2004, the Committee said there appear to be no records from White House senior political adviser Karl Rove until 2005, leaving open “the possibility that Rove had personally deleted the missing e-mails.” Rove — a Blackberry addict who does “about 95 percent” of his e-mailing on RNC accounts — received special attention from the RNC in 2005. According to Kelner, the Committee took action specifically and singularly against Rove in 2005 to keep him “from deleting his e-mails from the RNC server.” The automatic archive policy specifically targeted at Rove raises questions about his intent to intentionally evade compliance with the Presidential Records Act and escape accountability.
MORE WHITE HOUSE CREDIBILITY ISSUES: At a March 27, 2007, press briefing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino claimed that only a “handful” of White House staffers had political e-mail accounts. Yesterday, Perino was forced to admit that it was actually “a very large handful.” Speaking in her own defense, Perino offered, “When I said a ‘handful,’ I was asked based on something that I didn’t know.” In that same March 27 briefing, Perino also claimed the RNC had been archiving e-mails and that the system was “something that was in place” for years. Yesterday, amidst revelations that RNC emails had not been retained, Perino backed off that statement and said, “We have developed a better understanding of how the RNC archived or did not archive certain e-mails.” The White House’s inconsistent statements have raised questions about whether the e-mails did actually disappear as it claims. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) questioned the White House’s credibility: “They say they have not been preserved. I don’t believe that. You can’t erase e-mails, not today. They’ve gone through too many servers.” Leahy added, “This sounds like the administration’s version of the dog ate my homework. … Just when this administration is finally subjected to meaningful oversight, it cannot produce the necessary information.” Data-recovery experts say “erasing an e-mail message beyond hope of retrieval is not easy.” ABC News reported that wiping data from a hard drive or tape backup often requires special software designed explicitly to cover any trace of deleted information.
CLINTON V. BUSH: On May 5, 1993, then-Assistant to President Clinton and Staff Secretary John Podesta wrote a memo to all presidential staff explaining that the PRA required all staff members to maintain all records, including e-mails. “Podesta stated that the use of external e-mail networks was prohibited because records would not be saved as required.” CREW reports that the Bush administration has refused to make public its own record-keeping policy. Stanzel said, “We don’t share internal White House memos.” In Stanzel’s press call with reporters this week, he acknowledged that the handbook given to all White House staffers reads, “Federal law requires the preservation of electronic communications sent or received by White House staff. … 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.” Washington Post online columnist Dan Froomkin, who was on the call, reported, “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.” Said Podesta of the Bush White House, “At the end of the day, it looks like they were trying to avoid the records act…by operating official business off the official systems.”
ETHICS — WOLFOWITZ’S HYPOCRISY ON CORRUPTION: Soon after his tenure as president of the World Bank began, former Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz made it clear that “the new boss is going to be tough on corruption.” He held up $800 million in lending to Indian health projects because of corrupt politicians in the Indian government, froze loans to Chad because the government had reneged on its promise to use oil revenue for poverty reduction, and cancelled 14 road contracts in Bangladesh because of corrupt bidding. But now, Wolfowitz’s tenure is in danger of coming to an abrupt end because of his own corruption scandal. Following revelations that Wolfowitz arranged for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, to be given a promotion — including an annual salary of $193,590 — that “clearly does not conform” to bank procedures, the chair of the World Bank Staff Association called yesterday for him to “act honorably and resign.” When Wolfowitz addressed employess at the press conference, “calls of ‘resign, resign‘ resounded through the World Bank’s atrium.” Wolfowitz apologized for his handling of the promotion yesterday, saying, “I made a mistake, for which I am sorry.” His apology is not likely to stem calls for his resignation, as the World Bank’s board of directors issued an unfavorable finding of facts on his role in Riza’s promotion today and promised to “move expeditiously to reach a conclusion on possible actions to take.” The Treasury Department’s top international adviser, Undersecretary of International Affairs Timothy Adams, offered kind words about Wolfowitz yesterday, but “deflected questions on whether the Bush administration continues to support him,” though Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto told reporters yesterday that President Bush retains “full confidence” in him.
HUMAN RIGHTS — BUSH’S SUDAN AMBASSADOR REFUSES TO CLASSIFY DARFUR AS GENOCIDE: Last month, President Bush’s Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan Andrew Natsios told a group of Georgetown students that the “term genocide is counter to the facts of what is really occurring in Darfur.” In a testy exchange with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, Natsios defiantly refused to characterize the ongoing violence in Darfur as a genocide. When Menendez asked him, “Do you consider the ongoing situation in Darfur a genocide, yes or no?” Natsios retorted, “I just answered your question. … There is very little fighting between rebels and the government and very few civilian casualties going on in Darfur right now.” A recent Oxfam report on Sudan stated that “today the situation is as desperate as ever,” as “in the first two months of 2007, more than 80,000 more people fled the ongoing violence.” “The ongoing violence in Sudan’s Darfur region continued to rise” as peacekeepers were fatally attacked in North Darfur just this week. Furthermore, the violence is increasingly dispersing. The United Nations reported yesterday that in the “latest sign that violence plaguing Darfur is spilling into neighboring Chad,” between 200 and 400 Chadians were feared dead in an “unusually brutal attack” last month. “What is happening in Chad has Darfur as its epicenter,” said a U.N. spokesman. “We’ve been warning this for months.” Natsios’s comments are part of a sad effort by the Bush administration to declare victory in the midst of an ongoing slaughter. To learn what can you do about the situation in Darfur, visit the Enough Project.
Former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca lambastes the Bush administration in his new book. “Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening?” Iacocca writes. “Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. … But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, ‘Stay the course.'”
Gov. John Corzine (D-NJ) was seriously injured yesterday in a hit-and-run car accident, hospitalizing him “with fractured ribs, a broken leg, and chest injuries.” Corzine did not “appear to have suffered life-threatening injuries.”
Rudy Giuliani’s (R) current foreign policy advisers include retired Gen. Jack Keane, the architect of President Bush’s Iraq escalation policy, and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
“Four years after Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was deposed by U.S.-led troops, an international panel charged with recommending invitations for an exclusive meeting of the world’s democracies” has ruled that Iraq is “not invited,” the same status the country had under Hussein’s rule. Last year, Iraq had observer status at the Community of Democracies meeting.
“President Bush is threatening to veto a Senate intelligence bill that’s laced with provisions that would force the White House and spy agencies to be more responsive to Congress.”
Advocacy groups are scoring a “surprising success in an effort to link the Olympics, which the Chinese government holds very dear, to the killings in Darfur, which, until recently, Beijing had not seemed too concerned about.”
$100,000: The legal fees paid this year by Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ), who is wresting with separate investigations probing whether Renzi “introduced legislation that benefited a military contractor that employs his father,” and whether he “helped promote the sale of land that netted a former business partner $4.5 million.”
As many as 6 million prepared meals worth more than $40 million that were “stockpiled near potential victims of the 2006 hurricane season spoiled in the Gulf Coast heat last summer when the Federal Emergency Management Agency ran short of warehouse and refrigeration space.”
And finally: Some Connecticut lawmakers are pushing the state to adopt Connecticut Fun, a 1983 tune by the band Punkestra, as the state’s official punk song. Peter Detmold of the punk band New London’s Reducers is “amused” by the whole idea: “Well, I just wonder if that sort of recognition is true to the punk ethos. I guess it seems wrong-headed or oxymoronic for a punk-rock song to be official anything, and you wonder what (the legislature) is supposed to be paying attention to.”
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