House committee to White House: Show us the e-mail

It wants certain messages sent over an RNC or Bush campaign e-mail system

The U.S. House committee looking into the e-mail use of some high-ranking White House officials has asked the Republican National Committee (RNC) to produce specific e-mails stored on RNC servers that were sent or received by those government staffers.

In a two-page letter yesterday to RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, asked for the e-mails on RNC servers relating "to the use of federal agencies and federal resources for partisan political purposes."

The committee is investigating whether White House staff members used non-White House e-mail systems to conduct official government business, a possible violation of federal laws requiring the archiving of government documents and communications. White House staff members apparently used RNC e-mail accounts -- or accounts set up with the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election committee ( accounts) -- for some of their communications.

In his letter, Waxman said the issue came up last week during a committee hearing on allegations of misconduct in the offices of the U.S. General Services Administration.

"One of the issues examined at the hearing involved a partisan political presentation that White House Deputy Director of Political Affairs, J. Scott Jennings, made to the GSA Administrator, Lurita A. Doan, and approximately 40 GSA appointees in the GSA headquarters building on January 26, 2007," Waxman wrote. "At this event, Mr. Jennings presented a 28-page PowerPoint briefing that reviewed the 2006 election results and identified the Republican party's top electoral targets in upcoming federal and state elections. Following the presentation, Ms. Doan asked her staff to consider how GSA resources could be used to help 'our candidates' in the next election.

"Serious questions were raised at the hearing about the legality and propriety of Mr. Jennings's presentation and the discussion that followed it."

Waxman noted that a White House representative recently said that political communications between the White House and political appointees in the Bush administration often used the RNC or re-election campaign e-mail systems.

"ln communicating with GSA about the presentation, Mr. Jennings and his assistant used '' e-mail accounts maintained by the RNC rather than their official White House e-mail accounts," Waxman wrote. "In their e-mails, they described the [GSA] presentation as a 'close hold' and said that 'we're not supposed to be e-mailing it around.' "

Waxman asked Duncan to provide "any electronic messages sent or received by [White House adviser] Karl Rove, J. Scott Jennings, or any other White House officials using accounts maintained by the RNC" relating to the GSA presentation or to any other "similar political briefings at other federal agencies or to other federal employees." The committee is also seeking any e-mail communications relating to "the use of federal agencies or resources to help Republican candidates."

The committee wants the documents, in paper form, by April 18.

Lisa Miller, communications director for the RNC, said today that Duncan received the Waxman letter late yesterday and that it is still being reviewed. The RNC will respond as soon as possible, she said.

A White House spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Last week, the House committee said it would look into the apparent use of outside e-mail accounts by some high-ranking White House staff members in lieu of their official White House e-mail accounts, which are stored, archived and preserved under the federal Presidential Records Act of 1978. The White House has said that the outside e-mail accounts were used for political communications that would not have been permissible under federal law using the official White House e-mail system.

The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from being involved in political activities through their workplaces.

The House committee has requested interviews with White House Counsel Fred Fielding, the chairman of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, and RNC chairman Duncan to learn more about the use of outside e-mail accounts and whether the messages on them were archived.

Those interviews are still in the discussion stages, according to the committee.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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