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Following Up on the GSA Hearing

Posted on by Jesse Lee

Following yesterday's hearing regarding allegations of misconduct at GSA, the Oversight Committee has sent a letter to Karl Rove to learn what other agencies received political presentations and whether federal agencies or resources were used to help Republican candidates.

Letter to Karl Rove (pdf) >>

March 29, 2007

Karl Rove
Assistant to the President,
Deputy Chief of Staff, and Senior Adviser
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. Rove:

Yesterday, the Committee held a hearing into allegations of misconduct at the General Services Administration (GSA). One of the allegations involved a political presentation that your deputy, J. Scott Jennings, made to the GSA Administrator, Lurita A. Doan, and approximately 40 GSA political appointees in the GSA headquarters building on January 26, 2007.

The basic facts of this event are not in dispute. The GSA White House liaison scheduled Mr. Jennings to speak at a meeting that took place on January 26, 2007, at the GSA headquarters building, although some appointees participated by videoconference. After a brief introduction, Mr. Jennings presented a 28-page slide briefing that reviewed the 2006 election results and outlined the Republican Party’s top electoral targets in upcoming federal and state elections. This slide presentation included:

* A list of the 20 Democratic House districts the White House views as the most vulnerable to Republican takeover in 2008;

* A list of the 36 Republican House districts the White House views as the most vulnerable to Democratic takeover in 2008; and

* A map showing the Senate seats up for election in 2008 and whether the White House believes Republicans will have to play “defense” or “offense.”

After the presentation was over, Ms. Doan asked her staff to discuss how GSA resources could be used to help “our candidates” in the next election.

At the hearing, many questions were raised about the legality and appropriateness of Mr. Jennings’s presentation and the discussion that followed it. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service issued an 11-page report that found that both the presentation itself and Ms. Doan’s comments could be violations of the federal Hatch Act. According to CRS, the White House presentation alone may cross the line into being an impermissible “political activity” under the Hatch Act when “the sponsor or presenter is closely affiliated/identified with a partisan political campaign, invitations are directed only to ‘political’ employees of a department, and the objectives and agenda of the program appear to have a partisan slant.”

As part of the Committee’s investigation into Mr. Jennings’s presentation, I ask that you answer the following questions:

* Did you approve of the slides in Mr. Jennings’s presentation? Did you approve of Mr. Jennings’s participation in this meeting?

* Does the White House Office of Political Affairs or the White House Counsel have a policy addressing when and where White House employees can make political presentations such as the one Mr. Jennings gave at GSA headquarters on January 26, 2007? Please explain the legal authority you believe allows you to make such presentations on federal property during business hours.

* Did Mr. Jennings, you, or any other employee of the White House Office of Political Affairs consult with the White House Counsel or the Office of the Special Counsel about whether delivering this presentation to federal government employees in a government building during business hours violated the Hatch Act or any other rules, policies or procedures?

* Have you, Mr. Jennings, or other employees of the White House Office of Political Affairs given this political briefing or any similar briefing mentioning future elections or candidates on other occasions? Please provide the Committee a list of the dates, times, and locations of any of these presentations at which federal officials were present, whether they occurred on federal property or not, as well as a list of the people and organizations who participated.

* Have you, Mr. Jennings, or other employees of the White House Office of Political Affairs provided Mr. Jennings’s PowerPoint presentation or any similar presentation to federal officials mentioning future elections or candidates to people or organizations outside of the White House Office of Political Affairs? Please provide the Committee a list of who received the presentation, as well as the dates, times, and locations the presentation was provided.

* Who prepared the PowerPoint presentation given by Mr. Jennings? Did your office use federal funds to prepare this briefing? If so, please explain the legal authority that you believe allows you to use federal funds to prepare political briefings such as the one Mr. Jennings presented at GSA headquarters on January 26, 2007.

* Why did Mr. Jennings and his staff assistant use private “gwb43.com” accounts rather than their “eop.gov” accounts to correspond with Administrator Doan’s office about the PowerPoint presentation?

In addition, I ask that you provide the Committee with any documents and communications relating to (1) the presentation of the PowerPoint presentation or any similar presentation mentioning future elections or candidates to federal officials and (2) the use of federal agencies or resources to help Republican candidates.

I request that you answer the Committee’s questions and provide the requested documents by April 13, 2007.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee in the House of Representatives and has broad oversight jurisdiction as set forth in House Rule X. An attachment to this letter provides additional information on how to respond to the Committee’s request.

I will appreciate your cooperation with the Committee’s inquiry. If you have any questions about the Committee’s request, your staff can contact David Rapallo or David Leviss of the Committee staff at (202) 225-5420.
Sincerely,

Henry A. Waxman
Chairman
Enclosure

cc: Tom Davis
Ranking Minority Member

1 See e.g., Interview of Christiane Monica by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Mar. 13, 2007); Interview of Matthew Sisk by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Mar. 12, 2007); Interview of Justin Busch by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Mar. 13, 2007); House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Deposition of Emily Murphy (Mar. 15, 2007).
2 Memorandum from Congressional Research Service to House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Meetings, Conferences as “Political Activities” in a Federal Office, and “Hatch Act” Considerations (Mar. 26, 2007) (online at www.oversight.house.gov/ Documents/20070328154603-20874.pdf).

A second letter was sent to White House Counsel Fred Fielding asking him for information and a briefing regarding White House e-mail policies, citing the new revelations that White House officials have been conducting official business using nongovernmental e-mail accounts. Letter to Fred Fielding (pdf) >>

Text of the Fielding letter and relevant clips from yesterday’s hearing in the extended entry:

March 29, 2007

Fred Fielding
Counsel to the President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. Fielding:

I am writing to request information and a briefing regarding the e-mail policies of the White House.

On Monday, I wrote to the Republican National Committee and the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign directing them to preserve the e-mails of White House officials. In those letters, I cited multiple examples of the use of political RNC e-mail accounts by White House officials conducting official government business. In one example I cited, an associate of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff was advised by a White House official not to send communications through the official White House e-mail system because “to put this stuff in writing in their e-mail system … might actually limit what they can do to help us.”

Since Monday, I have learned of new examples of the use of RNC and campaign e-mail accounts by White House officials, including:

* New Abramoff E-Mails. Susan Ralston, who was Karl Rove’s executive assistant, invited two lobbyists working for Jack Abramoff to use her RNC e-mail account to avoid “security issues” with the White House e-mail system, writing: “I now have an RNC blackberry which you can use to e-mail me at any time. No security issues like my WH email.” Ms. Ralston similarly wrote Mr. Abramoff: “I know [sic] have an RNC laptop at the office for political use. I can access my AOL email when necessary so if you need to send me something that I need to read, you can send to my AOL email and then call or page me to check it.”

* New Scott Jennings E-Mails. Scott Jennings, the deputy director of political affairs in the White House, and his assistant used “gwb43.com” e-mail accounts to communicate with the General Services Administration about a partisan briefing that Mr. Jennings gave to political appointees at GSA on January 26, 2007. When Mr. Jennings’s assistant e-mailed the PowerPoint presentation to GSA, she wrote: “It is a close hold and we’re not supposed to be emailing it around.”

* New Job Appointment E-Mails. Mr. Jennings also appears to have used his “gwb43.com” account to recruit applicants for official government positions through the “Kentucky Republican Voice,” an internet site that describes itself as “the best source for Kentucky Republican grassroots information.” One posting from May 2005 advertised 17 vacancies on assorted presidential boards and commissions. A second posting from May 2006 sought applicants for various boards within the Small Business Administration. In each case, these postings encouraged applicants to contact Mr. Jennings at his “gwb43.com” address.

Moreover, U.S. News & World Report reported yesterday that my letter on Monday to the RNC may be driving official White House communications even further underground. According to this report, at least two White House aides have now “bought their own private E-mail system through a cellular phone or Blackberry server” to avoid the possibilities of subpoenas. Another aide told U.S. News that he now communicates through “texting.”

The statements of White House spokesperson Dana Perino at a press briefing this week only further confused the issue. She said: “Of course, people are encouraged, on official White House business, to use their official White House accounts.” But she did not cite any specific policy or guidance issued to White House staff regarding the use of e-mail accounts and the preservation of presidential records, and she acknowledged that certain officials in the White House have been given access to political e-mail accounts. When asked if a new directive had been issued to White House staff reminding them to use their White House e-mails, she stated, “I don’t know of any new directive, but it is what we ask people to do.”

Ms. Perino was also vague in her answers about whether the White House is ensuring the security and preservation of official communications that are sent through RNC and campaign e-mail accounts. She stated:

With respect to presidential records, an email that is sent to or from a White House email address is automatically archived, even if the other person is not using a White House email account. I believe our – well, I know that our White House Counsel’s Office is in communication with the RNC’s general counsel to make sure that those archivings have taken place.

To help the Committee understand the White House policies involving the use of nongovernmental e-mail accounts by White House officials, I ask you to provide the following information:

* All policies, guidance, and other communications provided to White House officials regarding appropriate use of nongovernmental e-mail accounts, particularly those hosted by the Republican National Committee and other political organizations;

* All policies, guidance, and other communications provided to White House officials regarding the obligation to preserve e-mail records, including those created while using nongovernmental e-mail accounts;

* Any agreements entered into by the White House and the Republican National Committee, the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign, or other organizations regarding e-mail accounts provided by these organizations to White House officials;

* Any documents relating to White House efforts to preserve presidential records that were created on nongovernmental e-mail accounts; and

* Any documents relating to White House efforts to secure official e-mails sent through nongovernmental e-mail servers, including any communications with the Republican National Committee or the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign regarding the security of their servers.

I request that you provide this information by April 5, 2007. In addition, I ask that you or your designee and any other appropriate White House personnel meet with Committee staff during the week of April 2, 2007, to discuss these issues.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee in the House of Representatives and has broad oversight jurisdiction as set forth in House Rule X. An attachment to this letter provides additional information about how to respond to the Committee’s request.

I will appreciate your cooperation with this request. If your staff has any questions about this request, they should contact David Rapallo or Anna Laitin with the Committee staff at (202) 225-5420.

Sincerely,

Henry A. Waxman
Chairman

Enclosure

cc. Tom Davis
Ranking Minority Member

1 Letter from Rep. Henry A. Waxman to Mike Duncan, Chairman, Republican National Committee (March 26, 2007); Letter from Rep. Henry A. Waxman to Governor Marc Racicot, former Chairman, Bush Cheney ’04 (Mar. 26, 2007).
2 E-mail from Kevin Ring to Jack Abramoff (Feb. 7, 2003) (GTG-R002245).
3 E-mail from Susan Ralston to Shawn Vasell and Todd Boulanger (July 11, 2001) (GTG-R001392).
4 E-mail from Susan Ralston to Jack Abramoff and Rodney Lane (Mar. 31, 2001) (GTG-R000835).
5 See E-mail exchange between Scott Jennings and John Horton (Jan. 26, 2007) (W-02-0432).
6 Email from Jocelyn Webster to Tessa Truesdale (Jan. 19, 2007) (W-02-0310).
7 Presidential Boards and Commissions Looking for Nominations from Kentuckians, Kentucky Republican Voice (May 13, 2005) (available online at www.kyrepublicanvoice. blogspot.com/2005/05/presidential-boards-and-commissions.html).
8 Small Business Administration Looking for Candidates for Boards, Kentucky Republican Voice (May 14, 2006) (available online at www.kyrepublicanvoice. blogspot.com/2006/05/small-business-adminstration-looking.html).
9 E-mail Controversy Prompts Many Aides to Stop Usage, USNews.com (March 28, 2007).
10 White House, Press Briefing by Dana Perino (Mar. 28, 2007).
11 White House, Press Briefing by Dana Perino (Mar. 28, 2007).
12 White House, Press Briefing by Dana Perino (Mar. 27, 2007).

GSA Administrator Lurita Doan, responding to Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01):
“I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit this but I can say that I honestly don’t have a recollection of the presentation at all.”
Rep. Brian Higgins
(NY-27):

“Mr. Jennings and other White House officials appear to be using their Republican National Committee email accounts on a routine basis to discuss politically sensitive topics. We know from documents obtained by the Judiciary Committee, for example, that Mr. Jennings used the identical Republican National Committee accounts to discuss the US Attorney firings that he was involved with…”
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