Group Issues Report on Missing White House Emails and Violations of the Presidential Records Act

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on April 15, 2007

Follow-up to postings on the escalating interest in the U.S. Attorney firings, this press release: “Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a report [April 12, 2007], WITHOUT A TRACE: The Missing White House Emails and the Violations of the Presidential Records Act, detailing the legal issues behind the story of the White House e-mail scandal. WITHOUT A TRACE covers the following areas:

  • “Presidential Records Act (PRA): Enacted in 1978, requires the president to preserve all presidential records, which are defined as those records relating to the “activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of [the president’s] constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties…”
  • Clinton Administration Policy: In 1993, then-Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary John Podesta sent a memo to all presidential staff explaining that the PRA required all staff members to maintain all records, including emails. Podesta stated that the use of external email networks was prohibited because records would not be saved as required. The 1997 White House Manual and a 2000 memo issued by Mark Lindsay, then Assistant to the President for Management and Administration echoed this policy, requiring staff to use only the White House email system for official communications.
  • Bush Administration Policy: The Bush Administration has refused to make public its record-keeping policy. A confidential source provided CREW with a 2002 document indicating the use of “non-EOP messaging-enabled mechanisms should not be used for official business.”
  • Bush Administration Practice: In the wake of the scandals surrounding Jack Abramoff and the fired U.S. Attorneys, emails were released showing that top White House staffers routinely used Republican National Committee (RNC) email accounts to conduct official business.
  • PRA Violations: 1) The administration failed to implement adequate record-keeping systems to archive presidential email records; 2) two confidential sources independently informed CREW that the administration abandoned a plan to recover more than five million missing emails; 3) White House staff used outside email accounts to conduct presidential business, ensuring that emails were not adequately preserved.
  • Hatch Act…The Hatch Act prohibits White House staff from using official resources for purely “political” purposes. “Political” refers to the president’s role as either a candidate for office or as the leader of his party. Email communications regarding presidential appointments for U.S. Attorney and Interior Department positions clearly fall within the PRA as making appointment is an official presidential function and does not relate to the president’s role as party leader.”
  • Related documents and articles on the U.S. Attorney firings and the Presidential Records Act:

  • NARA: “The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, 44 U.S.C. ß2201-2207, governs the official records of Presidents and Vice Presidents created or received after January 20, 1981. The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which Presidents must manage their records.”
  • The Presidential Records Act of 1978: A Review of Executive Branch Implementation and Compliance, Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and the National Archives, March 1, 2007
  • On Thursday, March 1, 2007 the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives held a hearing to examine issues relating to implementation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978, including the history of the act, the role of the National Archives and Records Administration in releasing Presidential records to the public, and the likely impact of Executive Order 13233 on research. See also H.R. 1255: The Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007
  • Albuquerque Journal, April 15, 2007: Domenici Sought Iglesias Ouster
  • WSJ free feature: Gonzales Deputy, in Crossfire, Looks for Quiet Exit – McNulty Seeks Job In Private Sector; Scrutiny Intensifies
  • Special Report: U.S. Attorney Firings Investigation
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