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Bush admin 'violated' Presidential Records Act

Press Esc | June 18, 2007

White House officials including Bush's senior advisor Karl Rove may have violated the Presidential Records Act by destroying emails relating to the decision to go to war in Iraq, making it the most serious breach of the 30-year history of the law, according to an interim report released by House Oversight Committee.

The investigators found that the number of White House officials given Republican National Committee e-mail accounts is higher than previously disclosed, and the RNC subsequently destroyed e-mails of White House officials.

The Committee has learned from the RNC that at least 88 White House officials had RNC e-mail accounts including Karl Rove, the President's senior advisor; Andrew Card, the former White House Chief of Staff; Ken Mehlman, the former White House Director of Political Affairs; and many other officials in the Office of Political Affairs, the Office of Communications, and the Office of the Vice President.

The investigators found evidence that the Office of White House Counsel under Alberto Gonzales may have known that White House officials were using RNC e-mail accounts for official business, but took no action to preserve these presidential records.

The Presidential Records Act requires the President to “take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented … and maintained as Presidential records.”

To implement this legal requirement, the White House Counsel issued clear written policies in February 2001 instructing White House staff to use only the official White House e-mail system for official communications and to retain any official e-mails they received on a nongovernmental account.

The evidence obtained by the Committee indicates that White House officials used their RNC e-mail accounts in a manner that circumvented these requirements.

The scale of record destruction is still unknown, but the committee is of the opinion that 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 potential violation of the Presidential Records Act may be extensive.

The Committee has written to 25 federal agencies to inquire about the e-mail records they may have retained from White House officials who used RNC and Bush Cheney '04 e-mail accounts, and responses indicate some of the emails are still preserved.

Oversight Comittee chairman Henry A. Waxman is calling for an investigation into what former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales knew about the use of political e-mail accounts by White House officials.

According to Waxman, the Committee may need to issue compulsory process to obtain the cooperation of the Bush Cheney '04 campaign.

The campaign has informed the Committee that it provided e-mail accounts to 11 White House officials, but the campaign has unjustifiably refused to provide the Committee with basic information about these accounts, such as the identity of the White House officials and the number of e-mails that have been preserved.

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