WASHINGTON: E-mail records are missing for 51 of the 88 White House officials who had electronic message accounts with the Republican National Committee (RNC), the House Oversight Committee said on Monday.
The Bush administration may have committed "extensive" violations of a law requiring that certain records be preserved, said the committee's Democratic chairman, adding that the panel will deepen its probe into the use of political e-mail accounts. The committee's interim report said the number of White House officials who had RNC e-mail accounts, and the number of messages they sent and received, were more extensive than previously realised.
The administration has said that about 50 White House officials had RNC e-mail accounts during Bush's presidency. But the House committee found at least 88. The RNC has preserved e-mails from some of the heaviest users, including 140,216 messages sent or received by Bush's top political adviser in the White House, Karl Rove. However, "the RNC has preserved no e-mails for 51 officials", said the interim report, issued by committee chairman Henry Waxman.
The 51 include Ken Mehlman, a former White House political director who reportedly used his RNC account frequently, the report said.
"Given the heavy reliance by White House officials on RNC e-mail accounts, the high rank of the White House officials involved, and the large quantity of missing e-mails," the report said," the potential violation of the Presidential Records Act may be extensive."
Republicans said there is no evidence that the law was violated or that the missing e-mails were of a government rather than political nature.
The records act requires presidents to assure that "the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance" of their duties are "adequately documented... and maintained", the report said.
White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters he would not "respond specifically" to the committee's findings but said the RNC e-mail accounts "were designed precisely to avoid Hatch Act violations that prohibit the use of government assets for certain political activities". He added, "the RNC has had an e-mail preservation policy for White House staffers".
Congressional Democrats are investigating whether White House officials used RNC e-mail accounts to conduct overtly political, and perhaps improper, activities such as planning which US prosecutors to fire and preparing partisan briefings for employees in federal agencies. Waxman's committee is contacting numerous federal agencies to determine whether their records "contain some of the White House e-mails that have been destroyed by the RNC", the report said.
My attitude on this is simple: Nothing on an RNC account should be protected under executive privilege. If it's really sensitive, it would be on the White House server. If not, it's fair game, and failure to comply with subpoenas seeking messages that are fair game is a crime.