Before we get too much further on the question of those missing White House e-mails, let's stop for a moment to remember this: As things currently stand, the White House wouldn't turn them over to Congress even if it could find them.
White House counsel Fred Fielding made that point in no uncertain terms Thursday in a letter to House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman. As the New York Times reports today, Fielding wrote that the White House would produce the e-mails only as part of a "carefully and thoughtfully considered package of accommodations," which is to say, as part of the deal Fielding has offered in which Congress would get private, transcript-free interviews -- but no sworn public testimony -- from Harriet Miers, Karl Rove and others who have been implicated in last year's prosecutor purge.
And why is the White House so resistant to the idea of Rove & Co. having to testify in public and under oath? The Times sheds a little light on that, too. As we've noted previously, the White House and/or the RNC changed e-mail policies in 2004 so that White House officials' RNC e-mails would no longer be deleted automatically after 30 days. The change may have come as a result of Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame, an investigation that, at that point and long after, focused, to a considerable degree, on Rove's role in leaking Plame's identity to reporters and his failure to testify honestly about it before a federal grand jury.
So what did Rove do in the face of the e-mail policy change? According to the Times, he continued to delete e-mail messages from the RNC's servers himself. In 2005, the paper says, the RNC changed its policy again, and Waxman is charging that the second change was made specifically to keep Rove from deleting e-mails that the White House or the RNC knew should be kept.
Which brings us to one more thing worth remembering now: Although Rove's lawyer announced last June that Fitzgerald had informed him that Rove wouldn't be indicted in the Plame case, Fitzgerald certainly hasn't ruled out the possibly completely. If Fitzgerald is learning for the first time now about Rove's faculty with the delete button, it strikes us as at least theoretically possible that congressional Democrats aren't the only ones who might be interested in what Rove would have to say under oath.