Thursday, April 12, 2007

In the Bush White House, Scandals Are Hidden Within Scandals

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It's been about a month now since the White House e-mail scandal broke, and it continues to grow. Today, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington released a 16-page report entitled "Without A Trace: The Story Behind the Missing White House E-Mails and the Violations of the Presidential Records Act." The report reveals that the Bush administration "abandoned a plan to recover more than five million missing e-mails [emphasis in original]. ..." These e-mails are now permanently lost -- meaning, not recoverable even by specialized data retrieval methods -- since the White House chose to ignore the action plan it was given to recover them.

Dan Froomkin spoke with Scott Stanzel in a conference call for reporters, and got nothing but stonewalled:

In an afternoon conference call with reporters, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel spread the blame all around. "White House policy did not give clear enough guidance," he said. "The oversight of that wasn't aggressive enough." And individual White House staffers "did not do a good enough job of following existing preservation policy -- or seeking guidance."

Said Stanzel: "I guess the bottom line is that our policy at the White House was not clear enough for employees."

But when I asked Stanzel to read out loud the White House e-mail policy, it seemed clear enough to me: "Federal law requires the preservation of electronic communications sent or received by White House staff," says the handbook that all staffers are given and expected to read and comply with.

"As a result, personnel working on behalf of the EOP [Executive Office of the President] are expected to only use government-provided e-mail services for all official communication."

The handbook further explains: "The official EOP e-mail system is designed to automatically comply with records management requirements."

And if that wasn't clear enough, the handbook notes -- as was the case in the Clinton administration -- that "commercial or free e-mail sites and chat rooms are blocked from the EOP network to help staff members ensure compliance and to prevent the circumvention of the records management requirements."

Stanzel refused to publicly release the relevant portions of the White House staff manual and denied my request to make public the transcript of the call, which lasted more than an hour but which -- due to Stanzel's refusal or inability to provide straight answers on many issues -- raised more questions than it answered.

Additional commentary, in abundance, at Memeorandum.

1 comment:

Chief said...

Just when you think they couldn't be any more incompetent . . .

Actually, they must have done this for the express purpose of leaving no 'paper' trail.