WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House political adviser Karl Rove was embroiled in a new controversy over potentially missing e-mails on Friday, the latest twist in the firings of eight U.S. prosecutors last year.
The White House disclosed that the Republican National Committee in early 2006 took away Rove’s ability to delete e-mails sent and received through a party e-mail account.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino had no explanation for why the RNC, the governing arm of President George W. Bush’s political party, would stop Rove from deleting e-mails.
Democrats looking into the Justice Department’s firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year, which critics say appeared to be politically motivated, are seeking Rove’s testimony and documentary evidence to determine whether he was involved.
The White House revealed this week Rove and 21 other White House officials have for years kept e-mail accounts through the RNC to conduct political business without violating the Hatch Act, which forbids government employees from using government property like handheld computer devices for partisan activities.
Democrats want to know whether Rove and the others conducted government business on the party’s e-mail accounts as well to get around record-keeping requirements under the Presidential Records Act and avoid leaving a paper trail.
Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, said Rove never intentionally deleted e-mails from any e-mail accounts.
“Karl always thought that all of his e-mails were archived, no matter which account he used. Consequently he never used a political e-mail account to avoid creating a record,” Luskin said.
He added that Rove never tried to get his e-mails deleted and “was unaware until very, very recently that there was any deletion of RNC e-mails for any period.”
The White House has acknowledged that Rove and others at times conducted official business on RNC accounts and that some of this e-mail traffic may wrongly have been deleted, including some related to the firing of the U.S. prosecutors.
But Perino insisted any mistakes were not intentional.
“We’ve seen no basis to conclude that anyone intentionally or improperly used the RNC e-mail,” Perino said.
Democrats have likened the disappearance of the e-mails to a famous 18-minute gap in a White House recording of a conversation President Richard Nixon had about the Watergate scandal that ultimately forced his resignation in 1974.
California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House of Representatives’ government oversight committee, has said he is concerned White House officials might have violated the Presidential Records Act and is particularly concerned about Rove, a frequent target of Democratic attacks.
It all adds up to another headache for Bush, who is under pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to get rid of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales over the firing of the U.S. prosecutors.
Ahead of Gonzales’ make-or-break congressional testimony next week, the Justice Department released a new batch of documents about the firings.
An e-mail written by Kyle Sampson, Gonzales former chief of staff, and dated January 9, 2006, to then-White House counsel Harriet Miers, listed some possible replacement prosecutors to those later fired.
Sampson had told Congress last month he personally did not have any replacements in mind at the time they were fired.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the Justice Department still has many questions to answer.
Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro