An interim report by the staff of Rep. Henry Waxman's Oversight and Government Reform Committee finds that more White House officials than previously acknowledged were given private, off-the-books Republican National Committee e-mail accounts -- and that the RNC has failed to preserve messages sent or received by many of those officials.
Among the heaviest users of the RNC accounts: Karl Rove. Waxman's staff says the RNC has maintained more than 140,000 messages either received or sent through Rove's RNC account. With more than half of those messages sent to or received from people with official .gov accounts, we can safely assume that not all of the e-mails were come-ons for discount Viagra and Nigerian investment scams. We can also assume that there are — or at least were — a lot more where those came from. The staff report says that the RNC has preserved only 130 Rove messages from President Bush's first term and none at all from before the fall of 2003.
All in all, the staff says, 88 White House officials have had RNC e-mail accounts, which is a little more than the "handful" that White House spokeswoman Dana Perino initially acknowledged in March. (Perino subsequently claimed that she didn't know how many accounts there were when she said there were only a handful; in April, she said that 22 current White House officials had the accounts but didn't seem to know how many former officials had the accounts when they worked at the White House.)
Waxman's staff report notes that the Presidential Records Act requires the president to ensure that all "activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented ... and maintained as presidential records" and charges that White House officials used their RNC e-mail accounts "in a manner that circumvented these requirements."
Asked about the charges today, White House press secretary Tony Snow declined to respond other than to say that the off-the-books e-mail accounts were set up "on a model based on the prior administration" to avoid violating the Hatch Act by ensuring that government facilities -- in this case, White House e-mail accounts -- weren't used for political purposes.
One tantalizing question: What did Alberto Gonzales know, and when did he know it? Waxman's staff cites evidence that the attorney general has known about the RNC e-mail accounts since at least 2001 but didn't stop White House officials from using them.