Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Automatic Deleting of White House Emails?

Reports are coming out that not only did the White House use Republican National Committee ("RNC") and "gwb43" email servers and domains for conducting official business, but apparently they didn't want anyone to know what they were up to. Dan Froomkin writes in the Washington Post:

Will these e-mails ever see the light of day? McKinnon writes: "The White House and RNC said the RNC is preserving the emails generated by White House officials on the RNC's computers, and that they are exempt from the RNC's normal policy of erasing emails after 30 days."

According to an article at, this policy has been in place since 2004.

The RNC's policy, Stanzel said, is to delete e-mails every 30 days, except for the e-mails of White House aides "who use the political e-mail accounts the RNC has provided them." David Almacy, White House Internet and e-communications director, told Computerworld in March that the RNC's archive exception for White House e-mails began in 2004.

Apparently convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff used the RNC or email system, too (from the Washington Post article linked above:

"There are also messages to and from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now in prison. At one point, according to investigators, after an e-mail was apparently sent by accident to the White House account of an assistant to Karl Rove, Abramoff fired another one saying, 'Damn it, it was not supposed to go in the White House system.' . . .

I wonder if Abramoff, in his duty of full disclosure as part of his plea agreement, revealed the existence of these emails to investigators? Usually, if a criminal defendant withholds vital information, his plea deal gets revoked. Will that happen here?

Blogger Eli over at wonders if the email autodelete policy wasn't part of a preplanned coverup:

Christy has been emphatic about the importance of preserving those e-mails, and has hinted at severe criminal consequences if they should be deleted (if Christy or someone can point me to that post so I could link it, I would be very grateful), but what if the purge exemption was not always in place, and the incriminating e-mails were automatically purged as a result of negligence, rather than deleted deliberately as part of a coverup? (My suspicion is that the 30-day purge policy was purposely designed as a sort of auto-coverup mechanism, so no-one is ever personally responsible for deleting anything.) It would be interesting to know when that purge policy was instituted.

So what are the criminal penalties for deleting evidence, or allowing evidence to be deleted automatically? And which is worse optics, a tacit admission of unspecified wrongdoing a la Nixon's missing 18 minutes, or the revelation of specific offenses? I guess it depends on the offenses, really. My prediction: RNC will say, "Oops, so sorry, we only started preserving WH e-mails after the investigation started. Everything from last year is gone, we had no idea anyone would need it. Our bad." I'm not sure what happens after that, other than a lot of smirking by Karl [Rove].

I guess we will just have to sit back and watch the fireworks in the Congressional hearings. I don't think there is much doubt that there will be a lot of litigation and Supreme Court hearings over how much Congress is entitled to know. With the recent appointees to the Supreme Court, we may see a lot of 5-4 decisions on these issues.

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