Follow the Emails

Sidney Blumenthal identifies what might be the Bush Administration’s achilles heel — White House business conducted with commercial and Republican Party email accounts.

Last week the National Journal disclosed that Karl Rove does “about 95 percent” of his e-mails outside the White House system, instead using a Republican National Committee account. What’s more, Rove doesn’t tap most of his messages on a White House computer, but rather on a BlackBerry provided by the RNC. By this method, Rove and other White House aides evade the legally required archiving of official e-mails. The first glimmer of this dodge appeared in a small item buried in a January 2004 issue of U.S. News & World Report: “‘I don’t want my E-mail made public,’ said one insider. As a result, many aides have shifted to Internet E-mail instead of the White House system. ‘It’s Yahoo!, baby,’ says a Bushie.”

The offshoring of White House records via RNC e-mails became apparent when an RNC domain, (referring to George W. Bush, 43rd president), turned up in a batch of e-mails the White House gave to House and Senate committees earlier this month. Rove’s deputy, Scott Jennings, former Bush legal counsel Harriet Miers and her deputies strangely had used as an e-mail domain.

The production of these e-mails to Congress was a kind of slip. In its tense negotiations with lawmakers, the White House has steadfastly refused to give Congress e-mails other than those between the White House and the Justice Department or the White House and Congress. E-mails among presidential aides have been withheld under the claim of executive privilege.

When I worked in the Clinton White House, people brought in their personal computers if they were engaged in any campaign work, but all official transactions had to be done within the White House system as stipulated by the Presidential Records Act of 1978. (The PRA requires that “the President shall 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 that such records are maintained as Presidential records.”) Having forsaken the use of Executive Office of the President e-mail, executive privilege has been sacrificed. Moreover, Rove’s and the others’ practice may not be legal.

A Bush Too Far

Harold Meyerson wants to know what the Bushies were thinking.

The truly astonishing thing about the latest scandals besetting the Bush administration is that they stem from actions the administration took after the November elections, when Democratic control of Congress was a fait accompli.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ hour-long meeting on sacking federal prosecutors took place after the election. The subsequent sacking took place after the election. The videoconference between leaders of the General Services Administration and Karl Rove’s deputy about how to help Republican candidates in 2008, according to people who attended the meeting, took place Jan. 26 this year.

During last year’s congressional campaigns, Republicans spent a good deal of time and money predicting that if the Democrats won, Congress would become one big partisan fishing expedition led by zealots such as Henry Waxman. The Republicans’ message didn’t really impress the public, and apparently it didn’t reach the president and his underlings, either. Since the election, they have continued merrily along with their mission to politicize every governmental function and agency as if their allies still controlled Congress, as if the election hadn’t happened.

Last week Wayne Slater was on one of the politics talk shows opining that Karl Rover was convinced the GOP lost the midterm elections because of the corruption scandals, e.g. Duke Cunningham. D. Kyle Sampson and Harriet Miers began drawing up a list of attorneys to be purged in 2005, but most of the purging occurred in December 2006, after the midterm. So, yes, one does wonder what they were thinking.

Democrats such as Waxman clearly had planned to hold hearings on the administration’s hitherto-unexamined follies of the past six years. Instead, the most high-profile investigations they’re conducting concern administration follies of the past five months, since they won the election.

And then there’s Iraq. In spite of overwhelming public opposition to the war and an overwhelming lack of confidence in Bush to make something good out of it, Republicans in Congress continue to support the war and the President. I admit, I expected a lot more rats to desert the sinking ship by now. Meyerson provides four possible answers to this mystery.

  • They still think they can win in 2008.
  • They want to block the Dems from doing anything so they can run against “do-nothing Democrats” in 2008.
  • “The alternative reality conveyed by the Republican media — Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk — has created a Republican activist base that is genuinely not reality-based, and from which the current generation of Republican pols is disproportionately drawn.”
  • “…good government is just not in their DNA. Bush and Rove are no more inclined to create a government based on such impartial values as law and science than they are to set up collective farms.”
  • Bush and Rove are a symbiotic creature. They were both problem children; Bush was the screwup son of a prominent family; Rove attended nearly half a dozen colleges without getting a degree. They both took an interest in politics, and found each other, and out of that symbiosis came a Formula for gaining and keeping political power. And that formula served them well for a long time. Neither was interested in government, but while Bush was governor of Texas that didn’t matter much. He went through the motions well.

    Once in Washington, BushRove finessed the September 11 attacks to maximum political advantage. But the creature was also being protected by a Republican Congress and the Noise Machine — the media-think tank infrastructure that wealthy conservatives began building in the 1970s, about the time Karl Rove dropped out of his last college. With the full force of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy enabling it, The Formula worked just fine.

    The big flaw in the BushRovian Formula was the governing thing. Even when government business is conducted in maximum secrecy, the results of incompetence and corruption can only be kept hidden for so long. Chickens do come home to roost.

    No matter how much trouble it gets into, the creature is not going to change. It won’t try to work with Congress; it won’t stop trying to get by on spin and bluster. When backed into a corner, the creature will fall back on The Formula, because that’s all it knows.

    As to why the rest of the Republicans are still carrying water for the creature — hell if I know.

    Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

    Jim Hoagland writes in today’s Washington Post that the Bushie-Saudi relationship is on the rocks.

    President Bush enjoys hosting formal state dinners about as much as having a root canal. Or proposing tax increases. So his decision to schedule a mid-April White House gala for Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah signified the president’s high regard for an Arab monarch who is also a Bush family friend.

    Now the White House ponders what Abdullah’s sudden and sparsely explained cancellation of the dinner signifies. Nothing good — especially for Condoleezza Rice’s most important Middle East initiatives — is the clearest available answer.

    Abdullah’s bowing out of the April 17 event is, in fact, one more warning sign that the Bush administration’s downward spiral at home is undermining its ability to achieve its policy objectives abroad. Friends as well as foes see the need, or the chance, to distance themselves from the politically besieged Bush.

    So sad. What’s worse, King Abdullah has been going out with other heads of state.

    Abdullah gave a warm welcome to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Riyadh in early March, not long after the Saudis pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas into accepting a political accord that entrenches Hamas in an unwieldy coalition government with Abbas’s Fatah movement.

    The Saudis “know how to read election returns,” Hoagland says.

    Next week: In a jealous rage, George W. Bush mails Bob Woodward a copy of the 28 pages redacted from the congressional report on 9/11. (The section of the report that dealt with Saudi Arabia’s role in the September 11 attacks.)

    See also Sun Tzu at The Agonist.

    Supplement Bill Update

    As I keyboard, senators Jim Webb and Chuck Hagel are introducing an amendment that would limit troops deployments and set requirements for training and equipment of troops.

    The final Senate vote on the supplement could happen late today or sometime tomorrow.

    Appropriate Appropriations

    Today the Senate is scheduled to resume consideration of H.R. 1591, the Supplemental Appropriations bill. There’s a summary of the bill here. If the Senate gets around to voting today I will post about it asap.

    By now you’ve heard that the Senate rejected an amendment “To strike language that would tie the hands of the Commander-in-Chief by imposing an arbitrary timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, thereby undermining the position of American Armed Forces and jeopardizing the successful conclusion of Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The vote was 48 yes, 50 no. The vote split along party lines. One Dem — Pryor (D-AR) — and Joe Lieberman (whatever-CT) voted yes with the Republicans (Lieberman was a co-sponsor of the amendment). Two Republicans — Smith (R-OR) and Hagel (R-NE) — voted no with the Dems. The complete vote record is here.

    Shailagh Murray reports for the Washington Post:

    The defection of a prominent Republican war critic, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, sealed the Democrats’ win. Hagel, who opposed identical withdrawal language two weeks ago, walked onto the Senate floor an hour before the late-afternoon vote and announced that he would “not support sustaining a flawed and failing policy,” adding: “It’s now time for the Congress to step forward and establish responsible boundaries and conditions for our continued military involvement in Iraq.”

    I don’t know how likely it is that the bill will pass as is. But if Congress does send a bill to the White House with conditions attached, expect to see the Olympics of Spinning in Washington. Who would get the blame if George Bush vetoes the bill and money for the Iraq War effort runs short? Seems to me the public might well blame Bush.

    Elsewhere in Washington — Yesterday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales cut and ran from a press conference when reporters asked him questions about the U.S. Attorney scandal. But never fear; you can find a video of the AG contradicting himself at Crooks and Liars.

    D. Kyle Sampson is scheduled to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow; should be fun.

    Today Henry Waxman’s House committee on Oversight and Government Reform will be hearing testimony from Lurita Alexis Doan, who is accused of using her position as chief of the General Services Administration for partisan political purposes.

    See David Sirota, “The threat of a ‘clean’ Iraq supplemental still loom large.”