King of the Internets

Yesterday, at the end of this post, I briefly mentioned that CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) was wondering whether emails sent to and from White House staffers using unofficial email addresses indicated a violation of the Presidential Records Act. I want to follow up a bit on that, because it's kind of a big deal. (One among many, I know. Shaker Mosiac, take me away!)

CREW is calling for an investigation into the use of the emails, which, as they note, mimics Karl Rove’s former assistant Susan Ralston's habit of communicating with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff using outside domains—" (used for the headquarters of the Republican National Committee), and In many of these emails Ms. Ralston is communicating inside White House information to Mr. Abramoff in response to Mr. Abramoff’s efforts to broker deals for his clients and place specified individuals in positions within the administration."

One email, sent to Justice Department Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson from J. Scott Jennings, White House Deputy Political Director, uses an email account,, on a server owned by the Republican National Committee. This raises serious questions about whether the White House was trying to deliberately evade its responsibilities under the PRA, which directs the president to take all necessary steps to maintain presidential records to provide a full accounting of all activities during his tenure.

…CREW has learned that to fulfill its statutory obligations under the PRA, the White House email system automatically copies all messages created by staff and sends them to the White House Office of Records Management for archiving. It appears that the White House deliberately bypassed the automatic archiving function of its own email system that was designed to ensure compliance with the PRA.
It does indeed appear that way.

Steve Benen's got a great post in which he sums up the basic issue precisely:

I know from experience that White House officials routinely set up separate accounts to deal with political issues, so that there’s a distinction with official government business.

But therein lies the point (or at least part of it). Rove’s deputy at the White House was communicating with the Justice Department, working on naming a new U.S. Attorney. This is government business. Why, then, use a Republican National Committee email address?

This may come as a surprise, but these details start to suggest that at the Bush White House, there’s no substantive difference between policy and politics. Shocking, I know.

More importantly, it might also suggest an effort on the part of staffers to cover their tracks.
It may indeed suggest that.

Dan Froomkin's all over this, too—detailing the issue of the outside email domains and listing a series of questions that he submitted to the White House (to no response, natch). His post is titled "A Culture of Deniability," which is a perfect lead-in to my thought about from whence this culture comes.

It comes straight from the top.

Last October, I posted this clip with the following note: "I just found this extended clip of Bush talking about how he uses the Google, and, in all the hilarity about his idiotic nomenclature for one of the most oft-used search engines in the fucking world, the bit that follows it kind of got ignored. Check it out: He goes on about how he doesn’t use email “because of the different record requests that could happen to a president.” (Fuck you, FOIA.) Not particularly surprising, considering his administration’s reputation for secrecy, but it’s fairly astonishing to see him just admit it so bluntly."

The full text of what he says about not using email at all is: "I tend not to email—not only tend not to email, I don't email, uh, because of, uh, the different record requests that could happen to a president. I don't want to receive emails, 'cause, you know, there's no telling what somebody would email me and it would show up as, uh, you know, part of some kind of a story that—and I wouldn't be able to say, 'Well, I didn't read the email'—'But I sent it your address; how can you say you didn't?' So, in other words, I'm very cautious about emailing."

Not only has the president himself spoken about not using email (and why); his parents have also spoken about their son's aversion to using email—and how terrible it is that emails could be used against him:

H.W. BUSH: …I think it’s too bad in a way that email will detract from the historical record of presidents. I don’t think that the President Bush uses email.

BARBARA BUSH: He doesn’t.

H.W. BUSH: You worry about it. People are going to subpoena the email records and we are going to, you know, you’ve gotta prove that you were telling the truth and all this stuff. I mean, it’s gotten so adversarial that it’s ugly.
Yeah. I can see why having to "prove that you were telling the truth and all this stuff" might make a liar "very cautious about emailing."

The president's "caution" about emailing seems to have woven its way right into the very fabric of his administration. After such a frank admission that he is paranoid about email usage, combined with evidence that his staff is using outside domains, might it be possible to question his precious ass about this bullshit?

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