WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Karl Rove and dozens of other White House staffers appear to have illegally routed official e-mails through a Republican group that subsequently deleted them, a congressional report said on Monday.
By using Republican National Committee e-mail accounts for official business, senior White House aides may have broken a law requiring them to preserve presidential records, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said in an interim report.
“This should be a matter of grave concern for anyone who values open government and the preservation of an accurate historical record,” said committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat.
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 requires White House officials to save official correspondence. While the White House automatically archives its e-mail the RNC typically deletes messages on its server older than 30 days, the report said.
The White House and the RNC said Waxman’s committee was jumping to conclusions.
“We have seen a number of times right now where people have been putting together investigations to see what sticks. They have had very little success so far,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
White House officials have for years used RNC e-mail accounts to comply with the Hatch Act, which forbids public servants from using government property to conduct political business.
At least 88 White House staffers had RNC accounts and there are signs that many of them used those accounts extensively for nonpolitical matters, the committee said.
Rove, a top political adviser to President George W. Bush, sent more than 100 e-mail messages and received more than 200 each day through his RNC account in 2007, the report said.
More than half of the 140,000 Rove messages saved by the RNC was correspondence with other government officials, the committee said. Most of his correspondence from Bush’s first term has not been preserved, it said.
Rove thought his messages were being archived, his former assistant Susan Ralston told the committee. His lawyer has said he never intentionally deleted e-mail from any accounts.
The RNC said it is still searching for the missing e-mails.
“There is no basis for an assumption that any e-mail not already found would be of an official nature,” RNC spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said by e-mail.
The report also points a finger at Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, currently facing pressure to resign over U.S. attorney firings that Democrats say were political in nature.
As White House counsel, Gonzales may have known that Rove and others were using RNC accounts but did nothing to stop it, the report says.
A Justice Department official referred questions to the White House.
The committee said it will investigate Gonzales’ role further and search federal agencies for copies of the missing e-mails. It also said it plans to subpoena Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign for additional e-mails because the campaign has not cooperated.