Missing White House E-Mails Bring More Questions

In response to mounting furor over missing e-mails from Karl Rove and other White House staff members, the White House announced Friday that it had begun talks with outside technical consultants to determine whether lost e-mails can be retrieved from Republican National Committee accounts set up for some White House staffers.

The White House's recent confusion stems from its mishandling of the old e-mails from staffs' separate e-mail accounts -- one government-issued, the other maintained by the RNC.

In a Friday briefing, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino cautioned against "sweeping conclusions" regarding the number of missing RNC e-mails. Perino referred to these e-mails as a "small slice" that the White House is trying to find.

Besides allegations that there are missing e-mails from the RNC server, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a watchdog group, has charged that potentially millions of e-mails sent and received between 2003 and 2005 have disappeared from official White House servers.

Perino said the "technical folks" the White House has consulted say that if "there had been an inadvertent human error or technical problem" the losses would not have been "intentional" and that "there are ways that we can try to gather" the lost e-mails.

Responding to allegations that former White House counsel Harriet Miers had been informed of the e-mail problem at the time it was occurring, Perino said she had not spoken to Miers and had no information.

As for the e-mails lost from RNC accounts, Perino said that at the beginning of the administration staffers had been warned that official White House business should be done only on White House-issued accounts, and not those provided by the RNC.

E-mails released to the public indicate that J. Scott Jennings, deputy director of political affairs at the White House, had violated this mandate.

Last month, members of Congress investigating the Justice Department's controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year wrote to White House counsel Fred Fielding about the matter. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, respectively, expressed concern that Jennings, who works under top White House political adviser Karl Rove, had been using his nongovernmental account from the RNC to conduct government affairs.

Perino admitted that as BlackBerries have become more "ubiquitous, the policy wasn't always followed correctly."

But so far there is no evidence that political business was conducted using White House accounts, a move that would be in violation of the Hatch Act -- a law that prohibits employees from using government-issued equipment for such a purpose.

The White House had no response Friday regarding House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman's understanding that in 2005, the RNC began treating Karl Rove's e-mail on the RNC server in a "special fashion." The Republican National Committee would not return calls on the issue.

Today, Karl Rove's personal attorney shot back at suggestions that the White House's acknowledged e-mail slipup could in anyway affect his client's culpability in the CIA leak probe.

"The suggestion that this is going to result in some kind of reopening of the [Valerie] Plame investigation is ludicrous," said Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin.

Rove, who was cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation in June 2006, had been subpoenaed for all of his e-mail accounts by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. The investigation looked into whether an administration official had leaked the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, and resulted in the perjury and obstruction conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Scooter Libby.

Luskin explained, "Fitzgerald issued subpoenas for the White House, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the Republican National Committee. There was no issue for documents for this period of time," he said, referring to a time frame from which the White House is missing e-mails.

"Karl volunteered to image all the hard drives -- the RNC hard drive, his own personal home computer and his BlackBerry. The FBI performed the imaging. Fitzgerald was interested in documents for the spring, summer and fall of 2003. They were copied the summer of 2004 and given to Pat Fitzgerald without conditions," Luskin said.