Former Rove Aide Susan Ralston Testified to Heavy Use of Email Accounts Provided by Republican National Committee
So Where Are The RNC-DOJ-WH-OVP Emails About Chandra Levy? Anthrax Letters? Clint Curtis?
By Margie Burns on 6/19/2007, 10:56am PT  

Guest Blogged by The BRAD BLOG's D.C. Correspondent Margie Burns

Those separate email accounts – email accounts held by people working in the White House and the Office of the Vice President, often with security clearances, but not “.gov” accounts – now threaten to become bigger news. Those alternate accounts, as we know now from work done by the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the new report from the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, both potentially and actually allowed WH and DOJ and OVP personnel to communicate ‘off the books’ up to a point. While theoretically still bound by the rules for preserving presidential records (see below) the 88 government officials with email accounts provided by the Republican National Committee could move with electronic fluidity from their official to their partisan political duties, and back again, with remarkably little scrutiny for the entire four years of Bush’s first term.

So any correspondence about --- for example --- Chandra Levy and Gary Condit, 9/11 and Iraq, anthrax mailings and Judith Miller, will remain lost from public view until the advanced technology of un-deleting can sweep it up from the bottom of whatever files it has been submerged in to date.

Tabling for now such topics as political motivation in the firing and hiring of US Attorneys, the immediate question is, exactly how EARLY did administration personnel start using these alternate email accounts?...

These are, after all, not small-timers. They were personnel at the highest levels of the WH and the OVP, as noted in Congressman Waxman’s report [PDF]. When, exactly, did they begin the easy transiting between official and non-official correspondence, only intermittently preserved and archived, that allowed them such complete control of major agencies of government for partisan political purposes?

The answer seems to be, as former Rove aide Susan Ralston testified in her March 2007 deposition, “From the first.”

While the title may be a tad dry ("Interim Report: Investigation of Possible Presidential Records Act Violations"), the substance of the most recent investigative report released by the Government Reform Committee, chaired by Henry Waxman (D-CA), is dynamite.

I had been calling around with questions related to that voluminous and partly “lost” White House email correspondence on another topic when Patrick Leahy’s press person, Tracy Schmaler, recommended that I look at the report posted at the Govt Reform Comm web site. Asked when the alternate email accounts were opened, she says, “That’s a very good question” – as in, other people would like to know that too.

The Committee report does not directly address the question of how early these alternate or separate email accounts were established. But several points in the summary indicate indirectly how far back they go. From the summary of the report:

The RNC has preserved 140,216 e-mails sent or received by Karl Rove. Over half of these e-mails (75,374) were sent to or received from individuals using official “.gov” e-mail accounts. Other heavy users of RNC e-mail accounts include former White House Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor (66,018 e-mails) and Deputy Director of Political Affairs Scott Jennings (35,198 e-mails).

In other words, it would have taken some considerable time to generate this many emails.

The RNC has preserved only 130 e-mails sent to Mr. Rove during President Bush’s first term and no e-mails sent by Mr. Rove prior to November 2003.

I.e., they know that he was sending & receiving during this period, as Ralston has testified. Yet more specifically:

In her deposition, Ms. Ralston testified that she searched Mr. Rove’s RNC e-mail account in response to an Enron-related investigation in 2001 and the investigation of Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald later in the Administration.

Therefore Rove was emailing during 2001. Wonder exactly which “Enron-related investigation” that one was. Wonder how much of this email correspondence, if any, made it into the Vice Presidential Energy Task Force documents pursued by Judicial Watch.

The Presidential Records Act requires the President to “take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented … and maintained as Presidential records.” To implement this legal requirement, the White House Counsel issued clear written policies in February 2001 instructing White House staff to use only the official White House e-mail system for official communications and to retain any official e-mails they received on a nongovernmental account.
...
If Susan Ralston’s testimony to the Committee is accurate, there is evidence that Mr. Gonzales or counsels working in his office knew in 2001 that Karl Rove was using his RNC e-mail account to communicate about official business...

Susan Ralston’s deposition more than corroborates the main points in the report summary. Several high points:

• Rove “had three accounts that I recall. He had an official White House account, a political account, and a personal account.” The political account “was an e-mail account that came over from the campaign. I don’t know who managed the account, but it was a GeorgeWBush.com e-mail address.”

Q “When did Karl Rove first start using his RNC e-mail account to send and receive e-mails from the White House?” A “From day one.”

Q how long did he use that political e-mail account? A “The entire time that I worked for him.” [Ralston worked for Rove from February 2001, on.]

Rove also had a “political Blackberry.” A “My best recollection is that he had it at the very beginning, but I can’t say exactly when it started.”

• He used it daily, many times a day, as did numerous WH and OVP personnel.

• During “the first 4 years” Rove got upgrades several times – “a new computer or a new Blackberry,” and each time there was discussion about saving his e-mails. RNC led Ralston and Rove (“us”) to believe that the emails were being saved. Usual policy for other people was to delete emails after 30 days.

• During the Plame leak investigation, the Fitzgerald team took Rove’s “political laptop and his Blackberry.” [This may not be as big as it could have been, because of Rove's losing Blackberries periodically, and periodic upgrades of computers. Wonder where the dreck went.]

• Rove (also) had a practice of printing out his emails. And “Well, we had a filing system in our office, handled by Records Management, and they were responsible for all of the files. So every piece of paper which we saved went to Records Management, and they kept all of the files in storage." However, Rove did not print out all of his political emails. The political emails, therefore, did not necessarily go to Records Management.

• Ralston was Executive Assistant to Karl Rove 2001 to 2004; in 2003-2004, she was also liaison to the '04 campaign. In 2005-2006, she was also Special Asst to the President. In all of these positions, she reported to Rove.

• Before the WH, she was at Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's firm, for one month (Jan-Feb 2001).

• Rove was responsible for 4 offices: the Office of Political Affairs, the Office of Public Liaison, the Office of Strategic Initiatives, and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Ralston coordinated, handled calls for all 4; quadruple gatekeeper to Rove.

• Drafts of Rove’s PowerPoint presentations for the major Cabinet agencies – political briefings on handling political matters, priority congressional races, etc --- were stored in the political accounts. Rove gave these presentations to the major agencies during his first two years. The political files would not have gone into Records Management.

• Mark Frauenfelder, in the WH, gave the briefing, with other people, on handling classified information. Ralston had a Top Secret Security Clearance.

• Ralston has a “vague recollection that he [Rove] and Scooter Libby talked about this subject often” [the Plame leak] – p. 61. “Often?” “Often.” – exactly when, not remembered.

• Rove had two separate computers and two phones, only one Blackberry, though. The RNC people set up the political computer etc, serviced and came over and maintained it. Rove also had a “Rove.com” email address, as well as his AOL personal email address; emails to the Rove.com and GeorgeWBush.com addresses went the same place. Ralston didn’t know why. p. 74.

Appendix 1 has the complete list of WH personnel who had RNC email accounts, from Andrew Card and Karl Rove to former Cheney aide Adam Levine, whose grand jury testimony apparently helped Rove off the hook in the CIA leak investigation. Appendix 2 contains the list of personnel whose emails were preserved – only 37 of the 88 officials who had the RNC accounts. Adam Levine’s emails were not among those preserved; as the report notes, some of these officials may not have used their separate email accounts extensively.

RNC has preserved 674,367 emails sent to and from their email accounts, from the fortunate 37.

Over 140,000 emails from and to Karl Rove have been preserved. However, only 130 of these preserved were Rove’s emails from the first Bush term. Not 130,000. Just 130.

No wonder presidential records are an issue here. The years that gave us...

• Chandra Levy,
• Enron,
• September 11, 2001,
• The anthrax mailings,
• The assassination of Assistant US Attorney Thomas C. Wales, in Seattle,
• The attack on pitiful Afghanistan,
• The “hunt” for Osama bin Laden,
• The lead-up to war on Iraq,
• The DC sniper attacks of fall 2002, and
• The “capture” of Saddam Hussein

...are only fragmentarily preserved for Americans, as far as official historical record goes.

Now why would that be?