Deleted e-mails could prompt obstruction of justice charges for Rove, other White House officials
A major government watchdog organization has warned that White House officials, including Karl Rove, could face a number of obstruction of justice charges for the way they used outside e-mail accounts and failed to properly archive e-mails on White House servers.
"[Special Counsel Patrick] Fitzgerald could decide to reopen the case," said Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, referring to the probe over who leaked the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. "And if it turns out that e-mail was deleted from the RNC server as suggested by the Waxman letter, that could lead to new obstruction of justice charges."
Sloan was referring to a letter written by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to various executive agency heads last week that suggested "White House officials retained the ability to delete e-mails form the RNC server until as recently as this month."
The Waxman letter referred to top White House adviser Karl Rove specifically.
"The RNC does not have any e-mails prior to 2005 for Mr. Rove," the California Democrat wrote. "One possible explanation is that Mr. Rove personally deleted his e-mails from the RNC server."
In a Monday afternoon conference call, Sloan also suggested to RAW STORY that the deletion of more than 5 million e-mails from White House servers, a separate matter from the deleted Republican National Committee e-mail archives, could lead to additional obstruction charges in other cases, such as that of convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"If there were subpoenas outstanding, or orders to preserve particular records pursuant to ongoing investigations, like in the Abramoff prosecution, and it turns out records were deleted after some time, that would certainly again lay open obstruction charges," Sloan added.
Sloan's group organized the conference call to discuss her organization's findings last week in the report "WITHOUT A TRACE: The Missing White House Emails and the Violations of the Presidential Records Act." CREW found that the White House has failed to properly archive millions of e-mails.
"The Executive Office of the President (EOP) has lost over five million emails generated between March 2003 and October 2005," they wrote in a press release last week. "The White House counselís office was advised of these problems in 2005 and CREW has been told that the White House was given a plan of action to recover these emails, but to date nothing has been done to rectify this significant loss of records."
CREW's revelations came alongside growing Congressional scrutiny of the use by at least 22 White House officials of e-mail accounts that were supplied by the Republican National Committee and the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign. Rove, according to the National Journal, used his RNC account for 95% of all e-mails he wrote.
The White House today tried to dismiss CREW's allegations by questioning the group's political allegiances.
"Look, the left-wing group, CREW, came up with a number of 5 million. We don't know where they came up with that number," Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said in today's press briefing.
But she acknowledged that a problem existed.
"We've told you what we know, which is that we are aware that there could have been some emails that were not automatically archived because of a technical issue. And we have talked with the Office of Administration about that, and we're looking into those details," she said.
Sloan acknowledged that the White House was now trying to recover some of the e-mails lost from its own servers, but called the move "disingenuous."
"The White House has known about the missing e-mails since 2005, and they are only now trying to recover them," she said. "They're trying to cloud the issue with technical difficulties, but the rest of the federal government deals with preserving e-mail and other electronic records all the time."
In last week's press release, Sloan spoke more starkly, stating "Itís the Nixon White House all over again."
The related question of the RNC e-mail accounts also raised other complicated legal questions.
On April 12, White House Counsel Fred Fielding wrote to the House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen and suggested that executive privilege would prevent the RNC from turning over the e-mails that White House officials used.
"We are aware that certain e-mail accounts supplied by the Republican National Committee may have been used by White House officials in sending or receiving e-mails that might fall within the production contemplated" in the White House's March 20 offer on producing information and witnesses for Congressional investigations on the firing of US Attorneys, he argued.
But CREW's Chief Counsel, Anne Weismann, said the claim wasn't credible.
"By using an outside network, which presumably archives the message for some period of time, and allowing some entities or individuals outside the White House to access them, I don't know how they could make that claim, it seems they've waived any claim of executive privilege," she said. "And they certainly don't have any expectation of privacy."
In the meanwhile, the White House has agreed to a partial accommodation on the investigation of whether the RNC's e-mails can be accessed.
"The agreement that we came to was -- was suggested by Senator Leahy and Senator Specter, I believe, in which they said, why don't we work together to see if there's an outside consultant, forensics consultant that can help us identify if there are any potentially lost emails," Perino said this afternoon. "Fred Fielding and the rest of the White House thought that was a reasonable idea. And so Fred Fielding and the Senator spoke on Friday, and their staffs are going to meet today to talk about how to move that process forward."