The White House is finding out, much to their peril, the same thing every teenager with a computer learns when he’s busted for downloading porn: there’s no way to cover your tracks on a computer.
When Karl Rove and his top deputies arrived at the White House in 2001, the Republican National Committee provided them with laptop computers and other communication devices to be used alongside their government-issued equipment.
The back-channel e-mail and paging system, paid for and maintained by the RNC, was designed to avoid charges that had vexed the Clinton White House — that federal resources were being used inappropriately for political campaign purposes.
Now, that dual computer system is creating new embarrassment and legal headaches for the White House, the Republican Party and Rove’s once-vaunted White House operation.
Democrats say evidence suggests the RNC e-mail system was used for political and government policy matters in violation of federal record preservation and disclosure rules.
In addition, Democrats point to a handful of e-mails obtained through ongoing inquiries suggesting the system may have been used to conceal such activities as contacts with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was convicted on bribery charges and is now in prison for fraud.
Democratic congressional investigators are beginning to demand access to this RNC-White House communications system, which was used not only by Rove’s office but by several top officials elsewhere in the White House.
Of course the White House is saying that nothing nefarious went on and that it’s “entirely appropriate.” Yeah, right… “C’mon, Dad, I was only reading the articles….”
The best part of this is that there is no way the White House can claim executive privilege on these communications, and Congress can subpoena all the records if necessary.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, last week formally requested access to broad categories of RNC-White House e-mails.
Waxman told the Los Angeles Times in a statement that a separate “e-mail system for high-ranking White House officials would raise serious questions about violations of the Presidential Records Act,” which requires the preservation and ultimate disclosure of e-mails about official government business.
Waxman’s initial request to the RNC seeks e-mails relating to the presentation of campaign polling and strategy information to Cabinet agency appointees. He is also expected to ask for e-mails relating to Abramoff’s activities, which Waxman is also investigating.
The Senate and House Judiciary Committees are also expected to formally request e-mail records from the RNC that relate to last year’s firing of eight U.S. attorneys.
For all their vaunted political skills and acumen in getting their message out, the Bushies seem pretty dense when it comes to using modern technology. It’s not surprising that Mr. Bush doesn’t use e-mail — any computer without a joystick is above his clock-speed (not to mention the fact that he spent an hour looking around on the keyboard for the “Any” key when the software said, “Hit Any Key to Continue…”) But they should have learned from the Nixon administration — and certainly there were enough old codgers hanging around from that time to tip them off — that you should never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the paper; or to be completely up to speed, at the top of a blog.