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Presidential Records Evasion


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The Presidential Records Act (PRA) -- 44 U.S.C. section 2203 -- reads, "Through the implementation of records management controls and other necessary actions, the President shall take all such steps as may be necessary to assure" that the activities of the White House "are adequately documented." Passed in 1978 by Congress to counteract Richard Nixon's attempts to seal and destroy some of his papers, the PRA was intended to make Executive Branch leaders accountable by ensuring eventual public access to White House decision-making. In recent weeks, through the congressional investigation into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, more evidence has come to light suggesting that senior White House officials have been using political e-mail accounts provided by the Republican National Committee (RNC), apparently in an effort to evade the PRA. This week, the RNC informed House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) that it had destroyed all e-mail records from White House officials in 2001, 2002, and 2003. "In 2004, the RNC exempted White House officials from its policy of purging all e-mail," but the RNC claims the system still allowed individual users, like Karl Rove, to personally delete such records. "The White House has not done a good enough job overseeing staff using political e-mail accounts to assure compliance with the Presidential Records Act," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said. As a result, Stanzel noted that "we may not have preserved all e-mails that deal with White House business."


The White House now says that roughly 50 White House officials, including 22 current aides, used e-mail accounts controlled by the RNC to send messages, including some related to the prosecutor firings. In a letter addressed to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday, Waxman revealed disturbing information he obtained from private briefings from the White House and RNC regarding the extensive volume of e-mails that may have been destroyed. Waxman said that RNC counsel Rob Kelner told him that the earliest e-mail records the RNC retains are from 2004, and the Committee only has e-mail records for 35 of the 50 White House officials that had political accounts. Moreover, Waxman said that White House officials retained the ability to delete e-mails from RNC accounts even after a policy was instituted in 2004 to retain the records. One government watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, reported yesterday from confidential sources that the Executive Office of the President had lost over five million e-mails generated between March 2003 and October 2005.

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