To the outrage of Democrats on Capitol Hill the White House admitted today that some e-mails from White House staffers have "potentially been lost" and the White House is "aggressively working" to fix the problem. The missing e-mails came from RNC accounts that were issued to White House staffers whose duties require them to interact with political organizations.
The revelation comes as two investigative congressional committees have asked the White House to turn over any such e-mails. It is unclear how many e-mails might have been lost or in what timeframe they were written.
The dual e-mail system was put in place to avoid violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use of government assets for certain political activities. Late this afternoon, a spokesman for the White House admitted that it has not "done a good enough job" overseeing the practices of staff with political e-mail accounts.
Last month Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who are investigating the U.S. attorneys' dismissal, wrote to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, expressing concern that J. Scott Jennings, the Deputy Director of Political Affairs at the White House, had been using his non-governmental account from the RNC to conduct government affairs. In a letter requesting "relevant documents" for their investigation they asked Fielding to collect and produce documents from all e-mail accounts.
Tonight Sen. Leahy issued a written statement regarding the revelation of the lost e-mails: "This sounds like the administration's version of the dog ate my homework. I am deeply disturbed that just when this administration is finally subjected to meaningful oversight, it cannot produce the necessary information."
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., had made a similar request after finding that some exchanges between Jack Abramoff and White House officials were conducted via non-government e-mail accounts. Waxman has expressed concern that White House officials were using the non-governmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of communications.
Tonight, Waxman released a statement after his staff was briefed by the administration: "This is a remarkable admission that raises serious legal and security issues. The White House has an obligation to disclose all the information it had."
In a briefing to reporters, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel explained that the administration's dual e-mail set up was a continuation of a practice similar to one used in the Clinton administration. "Out of an abundance of caution," and because of "logistical difficulties associated with operating two e-mail accounts at one time," Stanzel said, some staff members used their political e-mail accounts to communicate about official White House business.
There are apparently about 20 individuals in the White House who have political e-mail accounts.
While the RNC has an automatic deletion policy, which typically deletes emails every 30 days, a policy had been set since 2004 to exclude the individuals at the White House staff from this automatic deletion. However, despite the exclusion, the White House said tonight that it has discovered that the RNC retention practices may not "at all times have preserved" the e-mails that potentially deal with White House business.
A spokesman said that the White House Counsel's Office is working to determine how to recover any e-mails "that do reflect official White House business that may not have been otherwise preserved."