The lost White House emails: not an accident but a policy.
The official White House email system:
- February 26, 2001 White House counsel Alberto Gonzales informs White House staff they must preserve their email in conformance with the Presidential Records Act.
- June 4, 2001 Bush announces plan to name a special assistant to the President to act as Chief Information Officer for the White House and "improve" electronic records keeping.
- Late 2001 or early 2002 the White House deactivates the Automated Records Management System (ARMS) for archiving emails. Instead the White House begins transferring emails from its EOP server to a file server. The system is not secure or complete and emails can be deleted from it. On top of this, back up tapes which might capture and preserve some of these deletions are regularly wiped and recycled. Chief Information Officer Theresa Payton says this was in keeping with "industry best practices". The problem is that these "practices" violate federal law, i.e. the Presidential Records Act and the duties and responsibilities of her position.
- March 2003-October 2003 marks the period in which backup tapes were not retained. It encompasses the start of the Iraq war, the Valerie Plame coverup, and discussions concerning the destruction of the torture tapes.
- October 2003-October 2005 emails continue to be lost. Despite daily audits, no one notices for 2 years.
- In October 2005, someone does finally *gasp* notice. The Office of Administration does a study which finds hundreds of days (473) between March 2003 and October 2005 where various components of the White House system contained few if any emails. The OA estimates 5 million emails were lost during this time.
The unofficial system:
- Beginning in 2001, Karl Rove and about 35 other White House officials used Republican National Committee (RNC) GWB43.com and other email accounts for government business circumventing and violating the Presidential Records Act. Per a letter of Henry Waxman to Alberto Gonzales, it has been reported that Karl Rove used RNC accounts for 95% of his communications.
- 2001-August 2004, the RNC purged its email accounts every 30 days. After this time, it suspended purges on White House accounts. However, it continued to allow White House officials to delete their emails.
- Beginning in 2005, the RNC singled out Karl Rove. His emails were automatically archived and he was no longer allowed to delete them. That he had been doing this is obvious since although he used his RNC email account heavily, he has no emails from the time the RNC suspended its email purges in August 2004 to the beginning of 2005 when it began archiving his emails.
- Up to the time of Waxman’s letter in April 2007, White House officials other than Karl Rove retained the use of their RNC accounts and the ability to delete email from them.
To recap, the White House had two email systems, not one. It lost or destroyed many emails from both in deliberate and knowing violation of the Presidential Records Act. As a result, the Congress and the people’s right to know what their government is doing and to hold it to account has been irretrievably damaged.