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Report: White House aides used GOP e-mail to skirt law

Story Highlights

• Large volume of GOP e-mails have been deleted, House committee reports
• Accounts used in way that circumvented Presidential Records Act, report says
• Report also finds "major gaps in the e-mail records" for accounts that were saved
• GOP spokeswoman says report presents "Democrats' partisan spin as fact"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- E-mail records are missing for 51 of the 88 White House aides with Republican Party accounts, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee reported Monday.

The White House says the accounts were set up to keep political work separate from official business, but investigators concluded White House officials used the accounts to conduct official business in a way that circumvented the Watergate-era Presidential Records Act.

The 37 accounts the Republican National Committee did save include nearly 675,000 individual messages -- more than 140,000 of them from Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser.

"Whether intentionally or inadvertently, it appears that the RNC has destroyed a large volume of the e-mails of White House officials who used RNC e-mail accounts," the report states.

The committee found 88 officials who held GOP e-mail accounts; the White House had acknowledged 50.

In a deposition given to committee aides, former Rove deputy Susan Ralston listed a series of White House officials who used party accounts daily. But the RNC "has not retained a single e-mail to or from any of these officials," the report states.

Ralston testified that Ken Mehlman, former director of political affairs, used his account daily, but the RNC has no e-mail records for him.

Additionally, "there are major gaps in the e-mail records of the 37 White House officials for whom the RNC did preserve e-mails," the report states.

The committee, led by California Democrat Henry Waxman, began looking into the GOP e-mail accounts after messages from the accounts turned up in two cases -- the case of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the 2006 firings of eight U.S. attorneys by the Justice Department.

The committee found that although then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales ordered presidential staff to preserve official e-mails from outside accounts, he failed to enforce that policy.

Ralston told investigators that Gonzales, now attorney general, knew Rove was using his party e-mail account for official business, "but took no action to preserve Mr. Rove's official communications," the report states.

GOP spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said the report "jumped the gun and appears to be representing Democrats' partisan spin as fact."

"Not only have we been clear that we are continuing our efforts to search for e-mails, but there is no basis for an assumption that any e-mail not already found would be of an official nature," Schmitt said in a statement issued Monday afternoon.

White House spokesman Tony Snow declined to comment on the report's specifics, but said separate accounts were set up under the Clinton administration to comply with the federal Hatch Act, which bars the use of federal resources for partisan political activity. Snow said e-mail sent to or from a White House e-mail account was automatically archived.

He said White House officials are willing to cooperate with congressional investigators, but he added, "We have seen a number of times right now where people have been putting together investigations to see what sticks."

"This is an administration that is very careful about obeying the law. We take it seriously. The White House legal counsel's office takes it seriously."

The committee also accused Bush's 2004 re-election campaign of failing to cooperate with the House investigation. Monday's report said the campaign acknowledged that at least 11 White House officials used campaign e-mail accounts, but said the organization refuses to identify all of them or provide "basic statistical information."

"This recalcitrance is an unwarranted obstacle to the committee's inquiry into potential violations of the Presidential Records Act," the report states, warning that it could subpoena campaign officials for the records.

In a statement released Monday evening, campaign lawyer Eric Kuwana said the documents "are from a limited period of time years ago, have no articulated connection to the investigations of the committee, and very well may be the type and nature of political documents that are specifically exempt from the Presidential Records Act." He said campaign officials have been discussing what information they would produce to Congress for more than a month.

More than 140,000 of the 675,000 messages the Republican National Commitee saved are from Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser.



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