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Of Missing Emails and 18-Minute Gaps

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The White House’s claims concerning the email-habits of Karl Rove and his key associates just get curiouser and curiouser. First we learned that Rove and Company used a large volume of private email accounts with the Republican National Committee to transact official business. The communications included instructions given to federal agencies concerning hiring and firing – indeed, an inquiry into the decision to ax U.S. attorneys for political reasons launched the original inquiry – as well as policy-making. Then we heard that millions of emails had simply disappeared without a trace. “It sounds like ‘the dog ate my homework,” said Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy. And indeed, the White House later came back and said that most of the missing emails weren’t missing at all. Today we learn from an important report issued by the House Oversight Committee that the scope of the outside email problem is still larger than we knew:

The RNC has preserved more than 140,000 e-mails sent or received by Rove, but only 130 were written before President Bush won re-election in 2004, according to the report. The committee has preserved another 100,000 e-mails from two of Rove’s top lieutenants, former White House political director Sara M. Taylor and deputy political director W. Scott Jennings, according to the House Oversight Committee. But the RNC has no e-mail records for 51 of 88 White House officials — such as Ken Mehlman, the White House political director from 2001 through early 2003 — who used their servers in addition to government e-mail accounts, according to a summary of the panel’s report.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), has been investigating whether the e-mail accounts run by the RNC and the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign committee violated the Presidential Records Act, which requires that every White House official “assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented.” The House and Senate Judiciary committees also are seeking the RNC e-mails of White House officials, particularly Rove, Taylor and Jennings, to examine whether Bush’s top advisers played roles in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

Now if a young federal prosecutor were handling this investigation and had heard the things that come out of this dialogue, he would have long since sent a couple of FBI agents over to impound the servers to preserve the evidence. It’s clear enough that the evidence is being played around with. And the arguments advanced by the White House border on the “now-top-this” ludicrous. For instance, assertions of Executive Privilege with respect to communications on the RNC’s servers. Does the White House intend to confirm that we are a One-Party State along the lines of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four? That’s the only way it claims can be transposed into something halfway coherent. We know that Rove and Company think this way, but are they prepared to argue it as an article of defense?

A cover-up is still underway, involving no shortage of acts of potentially criminal obstruction. The Bush White House has far exceeded any predecessor as a manufacturer of stone walls; the email affair is far wider in scope and potentially importance that the 18-minute gap of yore. It’s time to start tearing those walls down to let a bit of sunshine in. It’s also time for speed and a sharp focus from the capable Henry Waxman.

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