Friday, April 13, 2007

"A Very Large Handful" of White House E-Mail Accounts

The latest twist in the ongoing saga of the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys is the revelation that a number of White House aides had e-mail accounts through the Republican National Committee for "political" work, and some of the traffic through those addresses may have involved discussions of the firings.  Perhaps more ominously is the word that e-mails were deleted from the accounts, which is impermissible for any records sent through an official White House account.  The House and Senate Judiciary Committees are demanding the e-mails and questioning whether the Administration has been forthcoming in providing all the information related to the firings.  Senator Pat Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee chair, said that "[e]-mails don't get lost . . . These are just e-mails they don't want to bring forward." (see AP story here)  The Committee authorized the issuance of subpoenas for the e-mails and to compel testimony from Department of Justice and White House aides, but none have been issued yet.

In discussing the number of aides who had such accounts, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said at a press briefing (here):

Q On March 27th at this podium, you said that there were only a handful of White House aides who had these political RNC accounts. Now you're saying 22. That doesn't sound like a handful.

MS. PERINO: Well, I didn't know how many there were. And I think that, again, if you look at the number of people that work at the White House, almost 2,000, to have 22 people that -- I mean, that's obviously -- I grant you, it's a very large handful, but it's still a relatively small number. And it's based on the people who have responsibilities, both White House official responsibilities, but that also have responsibilities in their job description to do political activities. And to make sure that they didn't violate the Hatch Act, they had access to this other equipment. [italics added]

Much like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' statement that when he said he was not involved in the firings he meant he was not deeply involved, the assertion that it is "large handful" is the kind of parsing done by an earlier President that was the subject of so much criticism.  While the White House has 2,000 employees, I suspect that includes the support staff, lower-level employees, secretaries, and perhaps even interns.  If you consider only the upper-levels of the President's staff, twenty-two may well be a large number, and these are the people most likely involved in the decision to terminate the U.S. Attorneys, especially if there were political issues.  The investigation has become an example of death by a thousand cuts as each new wave of e-mails reveals more about the decision-making process that does not reflect well on the participants, in part because many people write e-mails without thinking how they will be understood down the road.  Could it be that AG Gonzales' testimony on April 17 will be overshadowed if another round of e-mail traffic emerges? (ph)

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