WASHINGTON – After promising last year to search its computers for tens of thousands of e-mails sent by White House officials, the Republican National Committee has informed a House committee that it no longer plans to retrieve the communications by restoring computer backup tapes, the panel’s chairman said Tuesday.
The move increases the likelihood that an untold number of RNC e-mails dealing with official White House business during the first term of the Bush administration – including many sent or received by former presidential adviser Karl Rove – will never be recovered, according to House Democrats and public records advocates.
The RNC had previously told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that it was attempting to restore e-mails from 2001 to 2003, when the RNC had a policy of purging all e-mails, including those to and from White House officials, after 30 days. But Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., disclosed during a hearing Tuesday that the RNC has now said it “has no intention of trying to restore the missing White House e-mails.”
“The result is a potentially enormous gap in the historical record,” Waxman said, including the time leading up to the start of the Iraq war.
RNC spokesperson Danny Diaz said in a statement that the committee “is fully compliant with the spirit and letter of the law.” He declined any further comment.
Administration officials have acknowledged that Rove and many other White House officials routinely used RNC accounts for government business, despite rules requiring that they conduct such business only through official communications channels. The RNC also deleted all e-mails until 2004, when it exempted White House officials from its e-mail purging policy.
About 80 White House aides used RNC accounts for official government business, according to Waxman’s committee. Rove, for example, sent or received 140,000 e-mails on RNC servers from 2002 to 2007, and more than half involved official “.gov” accounts, the panel has said.
The RNC dispute is part of a broader debate over whether the Bush administration has complied with long-standing statutory requirements to preserve official White House records – including those reflecting potentially sensitive policy discussions – for history and in case of any future legal demands.
Waxman’s committee is investigating allegations that vast stores of official e-mails from the first half of the Bush administration have also gone missing from the White House, which scrapped a Clinton-era archiving system and has struggled with data retention problems.