April 13, 2007

Vaporware

It seems as though the firing of eight federal prosecutors and the bumbling manner in which the administration handled the fallout has no bottom in sight. Like a thread that, once pulled, continues unraveling an entire garment, the situation continues to generate embarrassment and expose poor management -- at best. The latest form that the scandal has taken is the acknowledgement from the White House that some political aides may have used the Republican National Committee e-mail servers for official government business, and that some of the missing e-mails may have pertained to the termination of the US Attorneys:

The White House said Thursday that missing e-mail messages sent on Republican Party accounts may include some relating to the firing of eight United States attorneys.

The disclosure became a fresh political problem for the White House, as Democrats stepped up their inquiry into whether Karl Rove and other top aides to President Bush used the e-mail accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee to circumvent record-keeping requirements.

It also exposed the dual electronic lives led by Mr. Rove and 21 other White House officials who maintain separate e-mail accounts for government business and work on political campaigns — and raised serious questions, in the eyes of Democrats, about whether political accounts were used to conduct official work without leaving a paper trail.

The clash also seemed to push the White House and Democrats closer to a serious confrontation over executive privilege, with the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, asserting that the administration has control over countless other e-mail messages that the Republican National Committee has archived. Democrats are insisting that they are entitled to get the e-mail messages directly from the national committee.

First, let's acknowledge one danger presented by the investigation into the termination of the prosecutors. Congress, led by Henry Waxman, now threatens to subpoena the internal communications of the minority party. That would not just expose whatever the Democrats claim the messages contain about the firings, but the political strategies of high-level Republican Party activists. The government has no business snooping in those deliberations; in fact, it would be the Congressional equivalent of the Watergate break-in.

If the federal government can force political parties to divulge those deliberations for anything less that an explicit criminal investigation, then Big Brother has arrived -- and we still have no underlying crime for this investigation. All we have is a very questionable decision to fire US Attorneys and a Keystone Kops follow-up to the ensuing criticism. The internal deliberations of political parties should remain shielded from the subpoena power of Congress or the executive branch for issues as petty as what we have here, lest we do permanent damage to our freedom of political action.

That being said, the Bush administration invited this by allowing its staff to operate in both systems for its staff that holds positions in both the government and the RNC. It appeared to understand the problem as early as 2005, when they took action to keep Karl Rove from deleting e-mail messages from his RNC account. At that point, the White House should have taken action to eliminate the use of the RNC e-mail system for any official government purposes. Unfortunately, they did not, and at least one of the previously-released documents shows that e-mail went to the "gwb43.com" domain, owned by the RNC.

Now they have to open those files for Congress' inspection in order to demonstrate that they have complied with the 1978 Presidential Records Act, a law that comes straight out of Watergate. Once again, the White House has shot itself in the foot, and as a result, they have put the privacy of political activity at risk.

Congress should tread carefully, regardless. It should create a process which vets the provided material for just messages that pertain to the already-lame issues at hand in the investigation, and screen the rest from unnecessary exposure. In the long run, the independence of political activity for all parties outweighs the petty principles in play over the termination of the US Attorneys.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald notes a number of occasions where the White House has had document deficiencies. He provides a number of links to contemporaneous reporting of them as well. It may well be that all of these involve nothing more than simply poor maintenance procedures, but even so, it hardly builds confidence in the administrative competence of the executive branch.

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Comments (28)

Posted by Rob D [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 6:54 AM

There is no longer a distinction between the Executive Branch and the political party that controls it.

Posted by rbj [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 7:21 AM

"At that point, the White House should have taken action to eliminate the use of the RNC e-mail system for any official government purposes."

That should have been from day one. Isn't there a small kerfluffle over a photo showing Sen. Obama strategizing with political aides in his senate office -- also a no-no?

Posted by The Fly-Man [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 7:56 AM

So a US Senator strong arming an US Atrny is a lame petty partisian issue?i can't wait to hear your uproar and outrage when we get either HRC and her justice dept. or even better HRC as the Attorney General.

Posted by OldDeadMeat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 8:01 AM

Just when you thought the White House had run of feet to shoot....

Of course the Dems love it now, but the precedent will be very troubling.

This is where the RNC needs to go to court, not to seal the emails thru executive privilege (which should pertain to affairs of the nation) but for protection of its own right to privacy.

The RNC is not a public organization, and it is not a party to this affair. A court can review the documents in question but keep them sealed, and only release specific docs if there is a specific justification in law to do so.

Hey, Gonzales, good job, no, no, wait, great job supporting your boss. And dude, you are going to leave the White House with an impressive resume - I mean, it's not anybody who can take a simple little task like firing 8 people and manage to tie two branches of gov't up in knots, and you are now going for the grand slam - clog the Court system, too. Any bookmakers out there want to give odds this goes to the Supremes before we are done?

D'oh!

Posted by Dan Hamilton [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 8:02 AM

They were POLITICAL appointees. In the firing of Political appointees you would think that talking to POLITICAL people in your own party might be the norm. Duh.

And isn't it illegal to use the Whitehouse email servers for POLITICAL purposes.

Political appointees are a gray area. The only people who don't get this are lying, foolish, or willfully ignorant.

I am shocked, shocked that Politics is involved in Political Appointees.

Only the Democrats and the MSM would have the shear gual to do this. If the Republicans tried this the laughter and riducle would be so loud that people would become deaf.

This whole thing just shows how low and shameless the Democrats are. The Republicans have fumbled this but mainly because NO ONE whould have believed that this storm was even possible.

The Republicans have a problem just saying "The firings were POLITICAL get used to it. What part of POLITICAL Appointees don't you understand?"

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 8:25 AM

ODM:

the precedent will be very troubling.

Agreed with that, but...

Any bookmakers out there want to give odds this goes to the Supremes before we are done?

This thing was headed on a crash course for SCOTUS the minute the White House set up private lines of communications to undermine any and all parties resistant to their all-out power grab...and in November 06.

Dan Hamilton:

I think they're starting a Bushies Anonymous for folks in as deep denial as you are. Good luck.

Posted by OldDeadMeat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 8:59 AM

Pardon me, I can't type. The first line of my prior post should have read

Just when you thought the White House had run out of feet to shoot...

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 9:05 AM

What Dan Hamilton said. Administrations are REQUIRED to keep official government business separate from political/campaign business, so it's wise to maintain separate e-mail accounts, and I would assume separate servers and LAN workstations.

However, much of what goes on in ANY administration has both administrative and political components, even scheduling Air Force One. So which system do discussions about political appointees go on? If you've ever tried to maintain a discussion amongst several people on multiple e-mail accounts, you know how confusing it can get.

This is all much ado about nothing. The White House should have stepped in at the beginning and said, "We fired these guys because we can. We're not giving you anything."

AG Gonzales looks like a weak sister in this, but I'm inclined to blame the President. A stronger executive would have said, "If they have any questions, let them come to me."

/Mr Lynn

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 9:09 AM

All over this country, there are public employees that are also union officials. I don't know if the Democrats want to go down this new road to establish a broad precedent for the disclosure of government employee communications, absent an underlying criminal investigation. Democrats should be careful what they wish for.

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 9:45 AM

RBMN:

There are some unprecedented aspects of this case (the latest being the WH's undeniable and knowing violations of the Hatch Act), but the protection granted government employee communications is not one of them as far as I can tell. The WH acquiesced to the first set of requests and gave the lame excuse that they had lost the rest due to nonstandard (and illegal) intraoffice communications practices. The only choice is whether to attribute those practices to nefarious activities or call it an accident. The latter really, really strains credulity.

We already know the WH was jumpy about the attorney firings at the time they were talking about them, and we have directions on the WH emails to communicate by the RNC channels...and this was regarding "what we can do" for Jack Abramoff!

(a) official business routed on to private email accounts
(b) regarding Abramoff
(c) regarding the attorney firing & selection process
(d) probably regarding Plamegate
(e) that got deleted
(f) at each individual's discretion.

Whatever communications may occur between "union officials" and a past or future WH - they will be subject to the same laws that applied to GB, Clinton and GWB. There's nothing new here, even RBMN's innuendo is the same old same old.

And Mr. Lynn, official communications have to happen through official lines. If you delete it, it's just like shredding intra-office memos. The private sector knows this. In other words if it blends official and political communications, it stays above board. Your rule, "when in doubt, throw it out" seems to be the operative one within the Bush WH, though I doubt even they would have the rocks to attempt that "explanation".

Posted by docjim505 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 9:47 AM

Cap'n Ed wrote:

Congress should tread carefully, regardless. It should create a process which vets the provided material for just messages that pertain to the already-lame issues at hand in the investigation, and screen the rest from unnecessary exposure. In the long run, the independence of political activity for all parties outweighs the petty principles in play over the termination of the US Attorneys.

Cap'n, I think that you're being naive if you think that this precedent will apply evenly. Ultimately, it will depend on which party is in power at the time. If a filthy dem is defiling the Oval Office and the GOP has control of Congress, I imagine that it will be invoked (and vice versa). If a party has both the Congress and the White House, I expect that we'll hear nary a peep.

Further, let's not kid ourselves that the dems will EVER agree that this applies to them. It's like that nasty ol' Independent Prosecutor law: the filthy dems LOVED it when they were using it against Reagan, but thought it was an unconstitutional travesty when Starr was investigating Slick Willie (and sending some of his cronies to prison), but then fell in love with it all over again at Fitzmas time. And let's remember that the same dems who are protesting so loudly that the president (gasp!) fired US attorneys didn't say a word when Slick Willie did the same thing ("But that was different!").

In response to Fly-Man (April 13, 2007 07:56 AM):

I fully expect a dem administration to be absolutely crooked and corrupt. The idea of the Hilldabeast soiling the Oval Office or heading up the DoJ makes me nauseous. What's almost as bad is the certain knowledge that, just as they did during the '90s when Slick Willie was disgracing the White House, the dems will defend ANY wrongdoing.

"Politics as usual. Everybody does it. Personal matter, not political. Politics of hate. Nothing to see here. Move along, move along..."

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 10:12 AM

docjim re Cap'n's staement re precedent:

The WH has as much as admitted that they sent relevant, official-business, discoverable (subject to exec priv, which is the other issue on the back burner for the moment) on non-WH RNC-provided email accounts. They therefore made discovery/recovery of those emails fair game.

Had they abided by the Hatch Act they would not have this problem - but then they wouldn't have had the luxury of destroying their emails back and forth regarding what they were doing for Abramoff and which USAs they were going to boot for failing tow the party line.

They did it to themselves, and the private-account, "lost" communications are criminal in and of themselves. But keep telling yourself it's just a technicality.

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 10:52 AM

Re: biwah at April 13, 2007 09:45 AM

Using a Republican Party email account to communicate with fellow Republican Party members does not automatically constitute political activity. It depends on what it's about. Political activity involves selling a candidate, or planing to sell a candidate. You need more than just "emails exist" to go on a fishing expedition for violations of law.

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 11:28 AM

RBMN, allow me to burden you with some facts:

In 2003 a lobbyist for Jack Abramoff, Kevin Ring, wrote him that emails about Abramoff's clients shouldn't be sent to White House addresses because "it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc."

Abramoff's response, according to a copy of his e-mail, was: "Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system."

Susan B. Ralston, while she was executive assistant to Rove, similarly used "georgewbush.com" and "rnchq.org" e-mail accounts to confer in 2001 and 2003 with Abramoff, her former boss, about matters of interest to Abramoff's clients.

Last week the National Journal disclosed that Karl Rove does "about 95 percent" of his e-mails outside the White House system, instead using a Republican National Committee account. What's more, Rove doesn't tap most of his messages on a White House computer, but rather on a BlackBerry provided by the RNC.

J. Scott Jennings, the White House deputy director of political affairs, used a "gwb43.com" e-mail account last August to discuss the replacement of the U.S. attorney for Arkansas, Bud Cummins

Barry Jackson, a deputy to Rove, in 2003 used a "georgewbush.com" e-mail account to consult with Neil G. Volz, then an aide to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, about nominating one of Abramoff's Indian tribe clients for a Medal of Freedom.

Sources (mostly reports reflecting what was on the actual emails released by the WH):

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/26/AR2007032601979.html

http://www.salon.com/opinion/blumenthal/2007/03/29/attorney_firings/

Posted by Carol_Herman [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 1:05 PM

Oh, silly, it's just a fumbled ball no one can jump on for all the months Dubya has left in office.

He tends to keep a very low profile. SOmetimes? The ball is his head!

Not exactly a football game. But the CLOCK IS RUNNING OUT.

So why not think of this story (the fired lawyers), as one where most Americans celebrate when lawyers get fired!

Seems of all the losing situations BUsh gets himself into; this one at least has Betty Grable legs, running away from stroies giving lawyers any sympathy at all.

Lawyers fired, is like "this beach has no sharks" signs. Making it a lot safer to surf. Let me tell ya.

Bush must have, at this point, aligator skin.

Posted by starfleet_dude [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 3:07 PM

Karl Rove goes with the Sgt. Schultz defense:

Any e-mails Rove deleted were the type of routine deletions people make to keep their inboxes orderly, Luskin said. He said Rove had no idea the e-mails were being deleted from the server, a central computer that managed the e-mail.

Why, Karl looked for them just the other day - and they were gone! Riiiight...

But wait, it gets even better:

Q: Dana, can I follow up on that real quick. So this allegation about the 5 million missing emails refers only, as you understand it, to this 2002-2003 time period?
MS. PERINO: I don't know the time period. I'm saying 2002-2003 because that's when I worked at CEQ, and that's when I know that I got -- I moved from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook. We'll get the dates for you. It was a rolling system in order to make sure that people weren't disrupted from their work.

Surrrre - when in doubt, blame Microsoft. Everyone else does, I guess. Pity no one involved ever, like, actually thought to do a bit of checking to be sure NOTHING WAS LOST while the system was being, um, "rolled". Duh.

The Bush administration has finally jumped the shark here, no doubt about it.

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 3:24 PM

Re: biwah at April 13, 2007 11:28 AM

Since Rove spends most of his time communicating with Members of Congress about legislation, or communicating with the press about policy positions and their other questions, why not just get Rove's messages from them, if they're so damn important. But if those people didn't save Rove's messages, then that kind of indicates how important they were. Not very.

Lots of what Rove does is give little previews of policy announcements to come, give the press a heads up, so they can understand the history and the purpose of what's going on at the White House. But once that policy or official proposal is announced, whatever Rove had to say about it before, as a summary, is pretty superfluous.

Posted by biwah [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 3:47 PM

RBMN:

Thank you for your admission that Rove did use RNC accounts for official business. Although your second line of defense - that they just "werent important", fails to impress. 95% of Karl Rove's emails, but never mind. They just don't matter, and executive privilege, and uh, no backsies!

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 4:30 PM

States Biwah, "And Mr. Lynn, official communications have to happen through official lines. If you delete it, it's just like shredding intra-office memos. The private sector knows this. In other words if it blends official and political communications, it stays above board. . ."

I don't know where you came up with those 'rules', but who's to say what's 'official' and what's not? And how are Blackberry messages any different from verbal communication? I don't think any president since Nixon has been stupid enough to have a tape system in the Oval Office, never mind the hallways or the men's room.

'Official' documents are those that have the imprimature of office, and are meant to carry the authority of the office (whichever office it is, whether that of the President, or that of the Chief Cloakroom Attendant), not any random jotting that one makes while holding office.

Yes, I know casual notes have become the stuff of presidential libraries, but that's an indirect result of the beneficence of office-holders (or the egos of some, who think even their shopping lists are vital prose), not because of any 'rule' that I know of—and if there is one I don't know of, it's pretty stupid.

Most organizations with any brains will insist that office e-mail be used only for company business, and that employees use their own private accounts for non-company business.

And if it does involve the company? "Joe's becoming insufferable. I vote we ask the chief to move him out." If said on the golf course, it's private, but if typed on a keyboard it's not? That's ridiculous.

RNC e-mail and Karl Rove's Blackberry messages are not public, and absent a criminal investigation, are not privy to anyone else. And White House correspondence is subject to executive privilege.

If anything a member of an administration types on a keyboard can be the object of congressional fishing expeditions, future administrations are going to have a new rule: never type, never write, and go outside and stand in traffic before you talk.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by starfleet_dude [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 7:50 PM

What I knew all along about who's at the heart of Attorneygate:

Documents Show Justice Ranking U.S. Attorneys
(NPR) - The Justice Department sent Congress a new batch of documents about the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys. The documents show Justice Department and White House staffers planning the firings and trying to control the subsequent fallout.
Some of the newly released documents are repeats, like the letter in which Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, responds to a suggestion from White House counsel Harriet Miers that all 93 U.S. attorneys be fired.
NPR now has new information about that plan. According to someone who's had conversations with White House officials, the plan to fire all 93 U.S. attorneys originated with political adviser Karl Rove. It was seen as a way to get political cover for firing the small number of U.S. attorneys the White House actually wanted to get rid of. Documents show the plan was eventually dismissed as impractical.

Not wrong, just impractical. Karl Rove will have to testify before Congress now, on the record and under oath.

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 8:56 PM

starfleet_dude wrote: "Karl Rove will have to testify before Congress now, on the record and under oath."

Why does this change anything? Karl was absolutely right. Gonzales should have used the Clinton/Reno method, and fire all 93 at the same time. Then hire back the ones that will actually pursue voter fraud cases, and illegal immigration cases, and the worst types of obscenity. The ones that were fired were not interested in those parts of their job. It didn't fit their agenda. That's why they're gone, and good riddance.

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 8:56 PM

"Karl Rove will have to testify before Congress now, on the record and under oath."

Nonsense, Starfleet. Those attorneys all serve at the pleasure of the President, and can be fired whenever he wants.

Just because the White House wanted to fire eight, and debated firing all 93, is no evidence of any wrongdoing or illegality whatsoever.

This is just a Democrat fishing expedition. They promised to tie the Administration up in knots with investigations, and unfortunately the Adminstration is letting them. I'm sure the liberals on this board are delighting in the discomfiture of the rest of us, especially at the President's inability to tell Chuck Schumer to kiss off, but in point of fact this is just ol' Chuckie blowing his usual smoke at the TV cameras.

Nothing to see here. Move on.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by conservative democrat [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 9:03 PM

Watching Dana Perino tonite on C-Span I have a little advice for GWB. You need someone who does a better job of "stretching" the truth. Tony Snow was a master of this, Dana does not think fast on her feet and seems overwhelmed at her job. The latest Bush crisis is growing legs. Before I would let gonzo go up to capitol hill on Tuesday I would concoct a story about him needing to step down in the best interests of his Justice Department. He is a cancer to the Bush Administration and needs to go. Bush has bigger fish to fry at this time. Bush is rapidly approaching Nixonian territory and seems oblivious to the current political climate. Is he out of touch, or does not care? Somehow Roves dreams of a permanent Republican majority have slipped away.

Posted by starfleet_dude [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 9:47 PM

Why does this change anything? Karl was absolutely right.

RBMN, what NPR's revelation shows is how the idea of firing all 93 U.S. Attorneys was suggested by Rove in order to cover up what the real reason was for firing them - namely, the White House's desire to have U.S Attorneys bring charges in cases that would favor them in elections in closely contested states like Wisconsin, New Mexico, Washington State, and elsewhere. There is no denying Rove's initial involvement in this matter now, and it is also just as certain that Rove's been deeply involved in it all along. Congress has every reason to compel Rove to now testify under oath and on the record in order to get the truth. The White House's statements this week about "lost" emails and such practically scream cover up, and Congress must waste no time now in getting all the evidence it can before it's destroyed or otherwise tampered with.

Posted by stackja1945 [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 10:00 PM

"Myer Feldman, who has died at 92, was a lawyer known as Mike when he led a group assigned to find negative information about Kennedy's 1960 opponent, Richard Nixon. It compiled a mountain of potential embarrassments nicknamed 'the Nixopedia'. " "Feldman stayed in the White House after Kennedy's death to serve Lyndon Johnson, who promoted him to special counsel. In Johnson's 1964 presidential race, Feldman reprised his dirty-tricks role with a campaign against Barry Goldwater, Johnson's opponent."
Douglas Martin, The New York Times on Myer Feldman, 1914-2007.

Dems up to dirty-tricks again?

Posted by RBMN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 10:20 PM

Re: starfleet_dude at April 13, 2007 09:47 PM

You don't get it, do you? They can be fired because they're bad dancers. It doesn't matter why. They're POLITICAL APPOINTEES!!!! It's not even a crime to fire them for not doing their job properly, as happened here.

Posted by starfleet_dude [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 13, 2007 11:41 PM

Looks like a certain U.S. Attorney in Wisconsin will be asked to testify before Congress real soon now:

E-mails contradict testimony in U.S. attorneys scandal
WASHINGTON - A U.S. attorney in Wisconsin who prosecuted a state Democratic official on corruption charges during last year's heated governor's race was once targeted for firing by the Department of Justice, but given a reprieve for reasons that remain unclear. A federal appeals court last week threw out the conviction of Wisconsin state worker Georgia Thompson, saying the evidence was "beyond thin."
Congressional investigators looking into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys saw Wisconsin prosecutor Steven M. Biskupic's name on a list of lawyers targeted for removal when they were inspecting a Justice Department document not yet made public, according to an attorney for a lawmaker involved in the investigation. The attorney asked for anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the investigation.
It wasn't clear when Biskupic was added to a Justice Department hit list of prosecutors, or when he was taken off, or whether those developments were connected to the just-overturned corruption case.
Nevertheless, the disclosure aroused investigators' suspicion that Biskupic might have been retained in his job because he agreed to prosecute Democrats, though the evidence was slight. Such politicization of the administration of justice is at the heart of congressional Democrats' concerns over the Bush administration's firings of the U.S. attorneys.

Posted by Mr Lynn [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 14, 2007 5:04 PM

SF Dude, the article you linked to is not the article you posted; it's a McClatchy Newspapers piece headlined:

U.S. attorney asserts politics had no place in his decisions

WASHINGTON - The U.S. attorney in Milwaukee said Saturday that political self-preservation was never a factor in his decision to prosecute a Democratic state official for corruption before last year's election, and that he was never pressured by the Bush administration or the president's political aides to pursue the case.

Steven M. Biskupic also said in his five years as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, he has brought at least a dozen cases against Republican contributors or individuals with party ties. Further, he asserted he has declined to prosecute several allegations of Democratic voter fraud pushed by Republicans. . .

http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington//17075348.htm

Starfleet would have you drummed out for such tactics!

Oh, and by the way, there is no 'scandal' here. If Karl Rove wanted the eight fired because they did not pursue voter fraud aggressively enough, as has been mentioned, that is good and sufficient reason. As RBMN says, "They can be fired because they're bad dancers. It doesn't matter why."

/Mr Lynn