Yesterday, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel spent about 80 minutes
yesterday trying to explain
to reporters how it was that the White House had "mishandled" Karl Rove's and dozens of other staffers' emails.
Despite all that explaining, the situation is crystal clear
. 22 White House staffers also have an RNC-issued email account. Dating back to 2001, it's been about 50 staffers total. Through 2004, the RNC simply deleted all of those emails after 30 days -- that policy changed then, though that didn't stop the erasing. The staffers themselves could clean out their accounts. The White House only recently began preventing that.
Stanzel blamed the oversight on insufficient guidance. The rationale for the parallel email system, remember, is that it is a violation of the Hatch Act to use government resources for political purposes. The Clinton White House also had
a similar parallel system. But since the distinction between politics and official duties is blurred beyond distinction in the Bush White House, many staffers have understandably erred on the side of politics. As Stanzel puts it:
"I can say that historically the White House didn't give enough guidance to staff on how to avoid violating the Hatch Act while following the Records Act. We didn't do a good enough job."
But it's apparent from emails that the White House avoided the governmental email system because it was vulnerable to investigators. The Hatch Act just provided a good excuse. In 2003, for instance, a lobbyist for Jack Abramoff Kevin Ring wrote him that emails about Abramoff's clients shouldn't be sent to White House addresses because "it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc." That warning, Ring told The Washington Post
, came from Jennifer Farley, a deputy in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Susan Ralston, Rove's personal aide, used RNC provided email accounts when corresponding with Abramoff, her old boss.
And remember that Karl Rove reportedly uses his RNC-provided account for approximately 95% of his communication.
In other words, it was an open secret at the White House that the parallel system was to be used for everything you didn't want coming out later -- an understanding that was most likely never made explicit, but a situation that was carefully preserved by not providing apparently any parameters for what sort of communication should be done via the White House system.