June 19, 2007 in Nation/World

Rove e-mails skirt law

Michael Abramowitz Washington Post

WASHINGTON – White House aides made extensive use of political e-mail accounts for official government business, despite rules requiring that they conduct such business through official communications channels, according to new evidence disclosed Monday by congressional investigators.

The Republican National Committee told the investigators that White House senior political adviser Karl Rove alone sent or received more than 140,000 e-mails between 2002 and 2007, more than half of which involved individuals using official “.gov” e-mail accounts, a report from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said. The RNC said it still has copies of those e-mails.

Rove’s former assistant, Susan Ralston, affirmed in a deposition released by the committee that Rove used his political e-mail account “most of the time.”

The White House previously acknowledged that aides to President Bush improperly used the political e-mail accounts. But the material released Monday details for the first time how frequently they used the accounts and for what purposes.

The committee said it learned that the White House aides used the RNC accounts to discuss official matters such as appointments and grant announcements. It also said at least 88 White House officials had RNC e-mail accounts, a figure above previous administration statements that only about 50 had such accounts.

The report said many RNC e-mails involving others besides Rove and one of his aides have been lost, either under its e-mail deletion policy or individual deletions by senior officials. “As a result of these policies, potentially hundreds of thousands of White House e-mails have been destroyed, many of which may be presidential records,” the report states.

Congressional Democrats have suggested Rove and other White House officials might have used the political accounts to avoid congressional scrutiny of their decisions, but the report offered no evidence about motives. Ralston said Rove believed all of his e-mails were being saved even though the RNC had a policy until 2004 of purging e-mails after 30 days.

Republican officials scoffed at the Democrats’ claim. White House press secretary Tony Snow declined to respond in detail but said the purpose of the RNC accounts was to make sure officials did not violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of official government resources for partisan political activities.

RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said in an e-mail that the committee should not assume more e-mails will not be found. “This is not necessarily the total number of e-mails preserved,” she said. “The RNC has repeatedly made clear to the committee that it is continuing to search for e-mails.”

Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), the ranking Republican on the oversight committee, criticized the report and accused Democrats of rushing to judgment about Rove and other senior White House officials. He said the report “ignores the good faith efforts of the Republican National Committee and the White House to provide information, briefings and documents” to the committee.

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