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Interim Report on RNC Emails and the Presidential Records Act

Posted on by Jesse Lee

The Oversight Committee has been investigating whether White House officials violated the Presidential Records Act by using e-mail accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee and the Bush Cheney '04 campaign for official White House communications. This interim staff report provides a summary of the evidence the Committee has received to date, along with recommendations for next steps in the investigation.

* Investigation of Possible Violations of the Presidential Records Act (pdf)
* Deposition of Susan Ralston (pdf)
* Errata Sheet for Deposition of Susan Ralston (pdf)

The Committee offers this summary:

The number of White House officials given RNC e-mail accounts is higher than previously disclosed. In March 2007, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said that only a “handful of officials” had RNC e-mail accounts. In later statements, her estimate rose to “50 over the course of the administration.” In fact, the Committee has learned from the RNC that at least 88 White House officials had RNC e-mail accounts. The officials with RNC e-mail accounts include Karl Rove, the President's senior advisor; Andrew Card, the former White House Chief of Staff; Ken Mehlman, the former White House Director of Political Affairs; and many other officials in the Office of Political Affairs, the Office of Communications, and the Office of the Vice President.

White House officials made extensive use of their RNC e-mail accounts. The RNC has preserved 140,216 e-mails sent or received by Karl Rove. Over half of these e-mails (75,374) were sent to or received from individuals using official “.gov” e-mail accounts. Other heavy users of RNC e-mail accounts include former White House Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor (66,018 e-mails) and Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings (35,198 e-mails). These e-mail accounts were used by White House officials for official purposes, such as communicating with federal agencies about federal appointments and policies.

There has been extensive destruction of the e-mails of White House officials by the RNC. Of the 88 White House officials who received RNC e-mail accounts, the RNC has preserved no e-mails for 51 officials. In a deposition, Susan Ralston, Mr. Rove's former executive assistant, testified that many of the White House officials for whom the RNC has no e-mail records were regular users of their RNC e-mail accounts. Although the RNC has preserved no e-mail records for Ken Mehlman, the former Director of Political Affairs, Ms. Ralston testified that Mr. Mehlman used his account “frequently, daily.” 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. 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.

There is evidence that the Office of White House Counsel under Alberto Gonzales may have known that White House officials were using RNC e-mail accounts for official business, but took no action to preserve these presidential records. In her deposition, Ms. Ralston testified that she searched Mr. Rove's RNC e-mail account in response to an Enron-related investigation in 2001 and the investigation of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald later in the Administration. 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.

The Committee also suggests these next steps:

There are several next steps that should be pursued in the investigation into the use of RNC e-mail accounts by White House officials. First, the records of federal agencies should be examined to assess whether they may contain some of the White House e-mails that have been destroyed by the RNC. The Committee has already written to 25 federal agencies to inquire about the e-mail records they may have retained from White House officials who used RNC and Bush Cheney '04 e-mail accounts. Preliminary responses from the agencies indicate that they may have preserved official communications that were destroyed by the RNC.

Second, the Committee should investigate what former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales knew about the use of political e-mail accounts by White House officials. If Susan Ralston's testimony to the Committee is accurate, there is evidence that Mr. Gonzales or counsels working in his office knew in 2001 that Karl Rove was using his RNC e-mail account to communicate about official business, but took no action to preserve Mr. Rove's official communications.

Third, the Committee may need to issue compulsory process to obtain the cooperation of the Bush Cheney '04 campaign. The campaign has informed the Committee that it provided e-mail accounts to 11 White House officials, but the campaign has unjustifiably refused to provide the Committee with basic information about these accounts, such as the identity of the White House officials and the number of e-mails that have been preserved.

See the full list of letters sent to federal agencies, or read the full chronology of this investigation, which began around the time of the first hearing on allegations of misconduct at the GSA. Rep. Higgins had a relevant exchange with GSA Administrator Lurita Doan during that hearing:

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…”

UPDATE: Read select excerpts from Susan Ralston’s deposition (pdf) in the extended entry:

Selected Excerpts from the First Half of Ralston’s Deposition

Regarding Karl Rove’s political email account:

BY MS. AMERLING: When did Karl Rove first start usìng his RNC e-mail account to send and receive e-mails from the White House?

A From day one.

[...]

Q For how long did Mr. Rove continue to use his political e-mail account to send e-mails from the White House?

A The entire time that I worked for hìm.

[...]

Q For how long did Mr. Rove continue to use his polit’ical e-mail account to send e-mails from the White House?

A The entire time that I worked for hìm.

Q Do you know how frequently he used this account?

A It would be hard for me to quantify how much. He used it a lot.

Q Did Mr. Rove have a BlackBerry provided by the RNC?

A I don’t know if the RNC actually provided the equìpment. It was a political BlackBerry, I don’t know if the BlackBerry came on — if he had it during the campaign — it was a political BlackBerry.

Q Did you ever see him use it?

A Yes.

Q When did he first start using this BlackBerry?

A I don’t know when he started using it in the White House. My best recollection is that he had it at the very beginning, but I can’t say exactly when it started.

Q Do you know how often he used it?

A He used it daily.

Q Many times over the course of a day?

A Yes.

Q Did he have a White House BlackBerry, an official White House BlackBerry?

A No, he did not.

[...]

Q Beyond Mr. Fitzgerald’s requests, were there other requests from other investigators for Mr. Rove’s e-mails?

A The only — there may have been, but the only other major investigation that I recall specifically was related to Enron.

Q Do you know when that would have been?

A I believe that was in 2001 sometime.

Q And you think in 2001 that Mr. Rove searched his e-mails to respond to a request for investigators relating to Enron?

A He or I searched.

Q And that search included a search of political e-mails sent over the political account?

A Correct.

Q Were other White House officials aware that Mr. Rove in 2001- was providing e-mails from his polìtical accounts to investigators who were looking at Enron?

A I believe so, because all of the documents that we collected were then turned over to the White House Counsel’s Office.

On political presentations, such as the one given to the GSA:

Q How many times are you aware of that Mr. Rove gave the presentations?

A During the first couple of years, my recollection — my best recollection is that he gave it, possibly, at least once to each of the agencies.

Q Which agencies?

A The major — the major Cabinet agencies.

Q What about after that?

A After he had done them at least once, he more often deferred to one of his deputies to gìve the presentation. So it would have either been Barry Jackson or Ken Mehlman, or whoever the Political Affairs Director was, and that person’s deputy. There were a lot of demands for his time, and since he had met with each of the agencies at least once, then he preferred that somebody else try to gìve it.

Q Was it his idea to give these presentations?

A You know, I can’t say specifically it was his idea, but my general understanding is that it was he and whoever the head of the Political Affairs 0ffice was who decided that they would do it.

[...]

Q And how were these presentations drafted?

A The Office of Political Affairs would draft it.

Q Who was involved in the drafting?

A Several people. The head of the Office of Political Affairs would be one of the key people. They would get information from somebody on staff who was not an expert but who had experience in pollìng information, and sometimes they did get information from the RNC.

Selected Excerpts from the Second Half of Ralston’s Deposition

On the mission of the 0ffice of Political Affairs:

Q What was the 0ffice of Political Affairs designed to do with respect to its constituency?

A Well, they worked with Legislatjve Affairs on any domestic agenda items. They worked with the other committees — the RNC, the NRSC, the NRCC to coordinate their activjties. They worked on campaìgns and races.

Q When you say “worked on campaìgns and races,” what did they do on campaigns and races?

A They would work with the committees in identifying particular districts — or races that they might be helping, and how the White House was going to help those particular races with political activity. So, for example, if there was a race in a State, the White House might allocate resources, politjcal resources, through surrogates.

Q “Surrogates” being like political appointees and others who were permìtted to engage in campaign activities –

A Exactly.

Q — even though they are employed by the Federal Government?

A Exactly.

On the issue of the Klamath River:

Q Were you aware that in early January 2002, Karl Rove gave a PowerPoint presentation, that he used to solicit Republjcan donors, to 50 Department of Interjor managers at a Department retreat in Shepherdstown, West Virgìnia?

A You know, I don’t remember that one specifically, but he gave those kinds of presentations. I wouldn’t doubt it.

Q Do you recall his discussing with you that he was going to gìve a presentation related to the Klamath River issue at a retreat?

A I don’t have a specific recollection. He may have, but I don’t have a specific recollection.

Q Were you aware that Mr. Rove traveled to Klamath Rjvelin late January and early February 2002 and spoke to the farmers there?

A He traveled so much. He may have. I vaguely recall that trip, but he traveled so much that I –

Q Do you recall anything about that trìp?

A No. I just have a very vague recollection of ìt.

Q Were you aware that Mr. Rove put together a Cabinet-Level task force on Klamath River issues?

A He may have, but I don’t remember.

Q You were not involved in that?

A It sort of sounds vaguely familiar, but I just don’t remember the details.

Q Were you aware that the Interior Department’s inspector general investigated the White House’s involvement in the Interìor Department’s decision about Klamath River water levels?

A I do not remember that.

On conversations between Karl Rove and Scooter Libby:

Q Were you aware of any communìcations by Mr. Rove about Joe Wilson or Valerìe Plame WiLson with the Office of the Vice President?

A You know, it is — that investigation was so lengthy that the timing of all of the conversations is not really clear in my mind. I believe he did tatk to the Vice President’s Office about it, but I just don’t remember when, with whom, the context.

Q Why do you believe that he talked with that office about this subject?

A I just have a vague recollectìon that he and Scooter Libby talked about this subject often.

Q Often?

A Often.

Q During what time frame?

A I don’t know. I mean, I ìt is really hard for me to say.

On yet another email address:

Q Do you know what hi s personal e-maìl account address was?

A It was an AOL account. I don’t remember right now,

Q Do you know whether Ken Mehlman used a political e-mail account?

A You know. Karl also had a “Rove.com” e-mail address .

Q You are referrìng to a personal e-mail address?

A Well, it was — it wasn’t — I don’t know how you would classify it, but it was a “Rove.com” e-mail address. There were — I can’t remember when, but at some point his Rove. com e-mai ls all went to the same political account. So if you sent an account — if you sent an e-maìl to George W. Bush.com or if you sent an e-mail to him at Rove.com, it went to the same place.

Q Do you know why his e-mail was set up that way?

A I don’t.

Q Do you know whether he made any official communications over his Rove.com e-mail account?

A He may have, but I can’t think of — I mean, he may have, because he used it all the time.

Q Do you know whether e-mails sent or received on his Rove.com account were provided to investigators who sought e-mail records from Mr. Rove?

A I believe so. They took his political laptop; and, as I mentioned, that laptop was taken durìng the leak investìgation. All of the e-mails just kind of got funneled into the same potitical server.

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