Dana Perino has very large hands

How a "handful" of White House officials became 22 and then more than 50.

Published April 12, 2007 8:20PM (EDT)

When reporters asked White House spokeswoman Dana Perino on March 27 about White House officials' use of private, Republican National Committee e-mail accounts, she tried to downplay the situation by claiming that only a "handful" of employees had used such accounts. "I don't think it's a lot," she said then.

As we noted earlier today, the Los Angeles Times is now reporting that Karl Rove and at least 50 other White House officials have used such accounts. What does Perino have to say for herself now? "Well," she said when asked today, "I didn't know how many there were."

At today's White House press briefing, Perino said that 22 White House officials have RNC accounts. But then she was forced to concede that 22 current White House officials have the accounts -- and that the Los Angeles Times' report of more than 50 may be right when current and former White House officials are included.

Might this sort of slippery-sloping "poison the well" with members of Congress who are already unhappy with the way in which the White House has -- or hasn't -- been responding to requests for information and testimony on the prosecutor purge?

"I would hope that it wouldn't, because what we have done has been forthcoming, honest and to tell you that, you know, I don't have all the answers right now, that there is a review that's ongoing, that we're going to keep you updated," Perino said. "We are trying to understand, to the best of our ability, the universe of the e-mails that were potentially lost. And we are taking steps to make sure that we use the forensics that are available to retrieve any of those that are lost. And, we've changed the policy so that we can make sure that this doesn't happen again."

Of course, Perino said back on March 27 that the private e-mails had been subject to "archiving" for "the past few years." And while the White House now says that it did, in fact, take steps in 2004 to ensure that e-mails were not automatically deleted by the RNC servers, it also says the safeguards put in place then left White House officials free to delete their own e-mails as often as they wanted to do so.

Between the automatic and manual deletions, how many e-mail messages have now gone missing? We may never know, but CREW is estimating that the number may be as high as 5 million. While the White House does its own search for the missing messages, Rep. Henry Waxman is directing government agencies and employees who may have been at the receiving end of the private-account e-mails to hold on to any that are still in their in boxes.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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