Monday, June 18, 2007

The RNC e-mail memory hole

The Congressional Committee investigating the White House's use of RNC e-mail addresses has issued an interim report that mostly confirms what was already known -- but does so with some pretty harsh detail. The highlights:

1. The White House originally said only a "handful of officials" had RNC accounts. The actual number was 88.

2. The accounts were used heavily, including for official government business -- in violation of the administration's own directives for complying with the Presidential Records Act.

3. A huge share of the e-mails have been destroyed. There are no surviving records for 51 of the 88 users, and for many of the rest there are no preserved messages from before Fall 2006.

4. Then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales knew about the use of the RNC accounts but took no steps to ensure the e-mails were preserved in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.

The committee next plans to retrieve e-mail records from federal agencies to see if they contain any of the missing e-mails; grill Gonzales about what he knew and what he did about it; and pursue a parallel investigation into the use of Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign e-mail accounts by White House officials.

Whether through incompetence or design, the White House appears to have massively violated the records act, destroying a treasure trove of internal communications that should have been preserved and made available to historians. Whether it's something more sinister than that remains to be seen, and may never be known one way or the other. But the committee's plan of action seems reasonable: recover the records if possible and see if other records have been lost through the similar arrangement with the Bush campaign. And grill Alberto Gonzales about yet another massive failure on his watch.

The only caveat is the same one I made a couple of months ago: This should not be allowed to devolve into a fishing expedition. Determining the extent, scope and reasons behind the problem (as well as repairing the damage as much as possible) is reasonable; going on a random tromp through Republican strategic communications is not.

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

More witch hunting! What---specifically---are they looking for anyway? And the mere fact that out of the 88--the e-mails were archived on some of them says to me there was no vast right-wing conspiracy.

Wonder if Chuck Schumer is archiving and saving all his "official" correspondence to the DSCC? And BTW, when the media pays some attention to things like the following, I might pay attention to your story:

"SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER had just finished his last sputtering of outrage at the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court when news broke that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which he chairs, had a small problem. Newsday and the New York Post both reported that the DSCC was in illegal possession of the credit report for Maryland's Republican Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele. Two of Schumer's staffers, Katie Barge and Lauren Weiner, used Steele's Social Security number to fraudulently get his credit history.

The DSCC expects Steele to run for the Senate seat which Democrat Paul Sarbanes will vacate with his retirement next year. Nothing frightens Democrats more than a conservative African-American and Steele demonstrated in his appearance at the 2004 GOP convention that he has charisma, warmth, and a sharp sense of policy.

Making this even more scandalous, it turns out that the DSCC had known about Barge and Weiner's pilfering for over two months, having placed both on a paid suspension since early July, according to the Post. And yet no one gave any indication that the DSCC notified Michael Steele about the invasion of his privacy until this week. Given that federal statutes make the acquisition, distribution, acceptance, and even reading of this data without specific written authorization a federal crime, the theft should have resulted in no small amount of media attention."

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/006/134mpbij.asp

JP5

6/19/2007 10:21 AM  
Blogger Ed Kohler said...

That's not a witch hunt, JP5. That's one massive abuse of the laws regarding government communications.

6/19/2007 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not if it was unintentional.

Democrats naturally assume that anything like this by the Republicans is done for nefarious reasons. But as the example I gave above---Democrats do NOT assume the same about the Democrat leadership. I recall when the Clinton administration had some missing e-mails that was attributed to computer glitches. I don't recall any of them assuming it was something nefarious or that it was some "massive abuse of the laws regarding government communications."

JP5

6/19/2007 1:32 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

You're kidding, right, JP5? The Schumer story you allude to was covered when it happened. Why did it not turn into a scandal? Because instead of covering it up, the staffers involved were both suspended (then fired) and the authorities notified.

As to the "vast right-wing conspiracy" comment, you'll note that I allowed simple incompetence was a possible cause as well. One way or the other, though, a huge number of records were lost, and the people responsible for making sure that didn't happen -- including the incomparably incompetent Alberto Gonzales -- didn't.

6/19/2007 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But who were the staffers of the DSCC getting the information on Steele for? The DSCC. And who in the DSCC was questioned? Where was the investigation to find out if the 2 staffers were directed to get the information? It's a federal CRIME---and all that happened was 2 staffers got fired. And you're okay with that.

So, you'll understand why I'm okay with some missing e-mails with no evidence of any wrongdoing.

JP5

6/19/2007 4:20 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

You're working very hard to compare apples and oranges, JP5.

6/19/2007 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't claim the cases are exactly alike. However, my point was the way Dems look at things when it's one of their own....and the different way they look at things when it's not. Example: Sandy Berger was just "being sloppy." I cannot even imagine the reaction from Dems had that been Condi Rice stuffing highly classified documents in her pants and then taking them out and destroying them.

JP5

6/19/2007 6:24 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Didn't claim the cases are exactly alike. However, my point was the way Dems look at things when it's one of their own....

But your example doesn't even come close to demonstrating that.

These two staffers got Steele's credit report. A few hours later, they told their boss. He immediately suspended them and called the U.S. Attorney's office. After an internal investigation, the pair were fired and the DSCC apologized to Steele.

That is exactly how a situation like that is supposed to be handled. Note the important part: they immediately notified the U.S. Attorney (a Bush appointee) so he could start an investigation if he wanted.

And I don't recall people lining up to defend Berger, or suggest that the matter shouldn't be investigated. I certainly didn't.

The only thing I've ever disputed in Berger's case is the unsubstantiated allegation of a cover-up. The evidence simply doesn't support such a charge; it's pure speculation. There's a hole in the evidence that allows such speculation to persist, but that's a far different thing than proof.

The difference is that I supported an investigation of Berger, whereas you see no need for an investigation of the RNC e-mail accounts.

And never mind the loss to history.

6/19/2007 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The only thing I've ever disputed in Berger's case is the unsubstantiated allegation of a cover-up."

Cover-up???????? The guy STOLE highly classified documents and intentionally destroyed them. He got caught red-handed and had no other choice but to confess. He had no reasonable explanation and was never made to answer--under oath--- any questions about what he took and who may have directed him to do so. Where's HIS jail time? (And yes, I blame Republicans for not pursuing it). And I blame Dems for making light of it and laughing it off as just ole sloppy Sandy. And talk about "loss to history." They have no idea if he took some originals and he asked for....and stole... the same copies of certain documents.....hoping to get them all, maybe?

You see----you guys screw up when you aren't very interested in going after your own when it's warranted; it backfires on you.

JP5

6/19/2007 9:41 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

He had no reasonable explanation

A matter of opinion, of course. I'm not in the habit of second-guessing the Archives' inspector general.

And talk about "loss to history." They have no idea if he took some originals and he asked for....and stole... the same copies of certain documents.....hoping to get them all, maybe?

Yes, they have no idea if he stole originals on his first visit. And if so, that's both a crime and a loss to history. But it's speculation. There's no proof either way.

As for the copies, we've been around on this enough that you know what he took was Archive printouts, not copies that were themselves unique. Everything they know he took, the Archive still has the original of. And Berger *knew* he was taking copies.

You see----you guys screw up when you aren't very interested in going after your own when it's warranted; it backfires on you.

Putting aside whether Berger qualifies as "my own", what are you talking about? Once again, I supported both the investigation and the punishment. I'm simply not second-guessing everyone who knows the facts far better than I -- the Archive IG, the Justice Department -- like you are.

6/19/2007 11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A matter of opinion, of course. I'm not in the habit of second-guessing the Archives' inspector general."

I believe he was the one in the documentary on this who said they just don't know what originals Berger may have taken BEFORE they caught on to what he was doing and started tagging the documents.

Well, of course you supported his "punishment." Because he received none. But you fail to ask yourself a very relevant question: "Why in the world would somebody in Berger's position steal and intenionally destroy HIGHLY CLASSIFIED documents?" The only answer is that one does that if they believe doing so and risking the possible consequences of jail time is that important. There was something in there that he---and probably Bill Clinton---did NOT want anyone to know about.

I have no doubt that had this been Condi Rice you would STILL be ranting and raving about it and would be claiming this administration had something to hide and did something criminal. And you would NOT support the same kind of outcome that Sandy received. Right???

I mean----look at your contention about the WH missing e-mails. You assume the worst and are certainly NOT willing to take their word for it that there was no coverup and nothing done intentionally. Right?

Come on----don't act like you treat Republicans and Dems the same on these issues. Because you don't. And I don't mean just "you"....but Dems in general.

JP5

6/20/2007 4:59 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

But you fail to ask yourself a very relevant question: "Why in the world would somebody in Berger's position steal and intenionally destroy HIGHLY CLASSIFIED documents?" The only answer is that one does that if they believe doing so and risking the possible consequences of jail time is that important. There was something in there that he---and probably Bill Clinton---did NOT want anyone to know about.

Such a contention fails to explain the documents he was caught stealing. He was taking printed-out copies of a single document -- and he knew he was taking copies.

Before you speculate on what he might have stolen, try to explain what we know he stole. Your theory doesn't. Frankly, the only explanation for that that makes any sense is Berger's.

I have no doubt that had this been Condi Rice you would STILL be ranting and raving about it and would be claiming this administration had something to hide and did something criminal. And you would NOT support the same kind of outcome that Sandy received.

I'm not noted for calling for people's heads based on ideology. Had Rice done it you would have had the added wrinkle of an administration investigating one of its own -- a situation that would have led to natural suspicion of a whitewash and probably led to the appointment of an independent prosecutor. But I have no reason to believe that a Republican Justice Department would go easy on Berger or fail to investigate the matter thoroughly.

I mean----look at your contention about the WH missing e-mails. You assume the worst

Please point to a post on the subject where I assumed anything.

and are certainly NOT willing to take their word for it that there was no coverup and nothing done intentionally.

This is certainly true.

You're seriously saying that when there's an indication the administration has violated the law, I should simply take their word that they didn't and not bother investigating?

6/20/2007 5:17 PM  

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