Waxman asks departments to preserve e-mail records

The brewing scandal over the firing and replacement of U.S. attorneys by the Justice Department widened today to include a broad swath of the executive branch.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has sent letters to the heads of 17 major departments and agencies, including the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State, Energy, and Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Administration, requesting that they take measures to preserve all e-mails from or to White House officials using nongovernmental e-mail accounts. The first letter was sent to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; copies of the letters sent to other agencies are here.

The request comes on the heels of a briefing earlier this week given to committee staff by the Office of White House Counsel and the Republican National Committee stating that 'an extensive volume of White House e-mails regarding official government actions may have been destroyed by the RNC and not preserved by the White House.'

In the letter to Gonzales, Sen. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee, wrote, 'The only existing record of these e-mails may reside on servers or backup devices within the control of federal entities. For this reason, the committee requests that you preserve all e-mails received from White House officials who used 'gwb43.com,' 'georgewbush.com,' 'rnchq.org' or other nongovernmental e-mail accounts. The committee also asks you to preserve any e-mails sent to White House officials at any of these accounts.'

Waxman's request comes two days after the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to Gonzales for a wide range of documents, both print and electronic. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to authorize Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to issue a similar subpoena, though it has not yet been sent.

Waxman also requested that the agencies provide 'an inventory' of all the e-mails that used nongovernmental servers, including the names and e-mail addresses of the sender and recipient, the date of the message and a brief description of the subject. He set a May 3 deadline to receive the inventories.

All of these actions are aimed at delving into the White House's role in DOJ's firing of several U.S. attorneys around the country, and whether the dismissals were politically motivated.

According to Waxman's letter, the briefing by the RNC and White House also provided some information about the scope of the use of nongovernmental e-mail accounts.

Rob Kelner, the RNC's counsel, told committee staff that 'roughly 50' White House officials have had e-mail accounts on RNC servers during the Bush administration.

'Mr. Kelner stated that, to his knowledge, the earliest e-mail records of White House officials on RNC servers are from 2004. Although White House officials had used RNC e-mail accounts since 2001, the RNC has apparently destroyed all e-mail records from White House officials from 2001, 2002 and 2003,' Waxman wrote. The lack of records is due to RNC policy that purged e-mail messages more than 30 days old, Kelner told the committee staff.

Beginning in August 2004, the RNC changed its policy ' as a result of unspecified legal inquiries ' and placed a hold on the destruction of White House e-mail accounts being hosted by the RNC server, but allowed individual White House officials to delete their own e-mail from the server.

Another oddity in the handling of these e-mail accounts involved Karl Rove, Kelner said at the committee briefing.

'At some point in 2005, the RNC commenced an automatic archive policy for Mr. Rove, but not for any other White House officials,' Waxman wrote.

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