Eighty-eight White House officials have email accounts with Republican National Committee - and email records for 51 of them are missing, the House Oversight Committee reported on Monday. TechNewsWorld reports
that the missing emails are starting to smell like a smoking gun with "obstruction of justice" emblazoned on the barrel.
Congress started looking for officials' emails as part of the US Attorney firings only to find that many emails were sent from an RNC server and had since been deleted, which is apparently RNC policy. Emails sent from the White House must be saved forever. The White House claims the RNC accounts were used to neatly separate political communication from government business.
But a more plausible theory is gaining credence in Washington: that RNC accounts were used for communications that officials didn't want discovered and that would be deleted without breaking the law.
"Of the 88 White House officials who received RNC e-mail accounts, the RNC has preserved no e-mails for 51 officials," the report states.
"In addition, there are major gaps in the e-mail records of the 37 White House officials for whom the RNC did preserve e-mails. The RNC has preserved only 130 e-mails sent to Mr. [Karl] Rove during President Bush's first term and no e-mails sent by Mr. Rove prior to November 2003. For many other White House officials, the RNC has no e-mails from before the fall of 2006."
And the committee found that the White House Counsel at the time was aware that officials were using RNC accounts for official business and did nothing. Who was that again? Oh yes, Alberto R. Gonzales. Proof of this comes in the form of a deposition by Susan Ralston, Rove's former executive assistant, that she searched Rove's RNC email in responding to investigations of Enron and the Valerie Plame affair.
"According to Ms. Ralston, the White House Counsel's office knew about these e-mails because 'all of the documents we collected were then turned over to the White House Counsel's office.' There is no evidence, however, that White House Counsel Gonzales initiated any action to ensure the preservation of the e-mail records that were destroyed by the RNC."
If, as it seems, the Bush Administration was using the RNC accounts to skirt the Hatch Act, which requires preservation of official communications, we can count on new laws to explicitly make the practice illegal, predicts Republican pollster David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision.
"It won't be possible to set up separate e-mail accounts and say that these don't apply to record preservation laws because of the Hatch Act," he said. "I believe we will see new laws in place clarifying a lot of these issues."
On this point, as on so many others, though, the Bush Administration may be willing to push the issue towards a Constitutional crisis.
Peter Vogel, a partner with Gardere Wynne Sewell, said: "We could be on a collision course for a Constitutional challenge," he said. The argument could be made that any communications that discuss matters falling under the rubric of attorney-client privilege -- such as the attorney general's consultations with the president -- could themselves be privileged.
That would be a hard argument for Congress to accept, as the president could include White House Counsel on all conversations and completely insulate himself from public scrutiny.