Their Own Petard

The business with the missing emails and Lurita Alexis Doan, the U.S. Attorney purge, destabilization in the Middle East, festering rot in New Orleans, and even the President’s search for a “war czar” seem to me to be coming together into one big, hard, ugly knot. Because, when all is said and done, at the root of each of these issues is the simple fact that our government was taken over by people who don’t give a bleep about governing.

Let’s take the email scandal. Even assuming there’s nothing incriminating in the missing emails, shouldn’t it be troubling that White House staffers — people whose salaries are paid by our tax dollars — were expected to spend so much time on Republican Party business they were issued RNC laptops and blackberries on which to conduct that business? Further, these staffers allegedly were so careless about keeping the government’s business separate from the party’s business that much government business was conducted via RNC email servers.

Going further: It’s always been obvious to everyone that Karl Rove is, primarily, a Republican Party operative. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a Republican Party operative. But why is he drawing a government salary? Why does he have top security clearance? Why does he sit in on Cabinet meetings?

Of course, there’s always going to be some overlap between politics and government. But let’s have some perspective. In 1998 the House held bleeping hearings on the White House Christmas card list. Republicans were shocked, shocked I tell you, when they learned that some of the people who received Christmas cards from President Clinton were Democratic Party donors. And Republican congressman Dan Burton actually investigated the use of White House staff, postage, and stationery to answer mail addressed to Socks the bleeping cat.

Does that mean we can impeach Barney for those cutesy-poo Christmas videos?

Although there might be a fuzzy line between White House public relations (e.g., the Christmas card list; letters from Socks the cat) and partisan politics, as long as the Christmas cards were not soliciting campaign funds and Socks was not making charges against his master’s political opponents, what’s the big bleeping deal?

But of course, It’s OK If You’re a Republican. Joseph M. Birkenstock wrote in Salon (June 13, 2003),

Once upon a time, using the political power of one’s office to gather more power resulted in literally dozens of congressional investigations of the Clinton administration including, and I’m almost positive I didn’t just make this up, a taxpayer-funded investigation into the White House Christmas card list. During the Bush administration, the use of Vice President Dick Cheney’s official residence at the Naval Observatory for a Republican Party fundraiser, private briefings for top Republican donors by Bush Cabinet officials, and the simply astonishing use of the federal police authority of the Department of Homeland Security to intervene on behalf of the Texas Republicans in Tom DeLay’s shameless mid-decade redistricting power grab, have thus far resulted in a couple of watery editorials. So don’t expect much of an apology about the naked use of power to beget power from this administration.

On the other hand, in 1997 Vice President Gore admitted he had made campaign fundraising phone calls from his White House office, which is a violation of federal law, but he brushed it off with his “no controlling legal authority” speech. I’m as big an admirer of Gore as anyone, but to this day that episode disappoints me. It would have been better had he said “yep, sorry, I shouldn’t have done that” and paid a fine or done community service or whatever. I’m just putting this out there to say yes, I remember it, and I’m not making excuses for it. Except … wait a minute … is it possible the Vice President used his own cell phone to make the calls? Possibly not, but if he did, how would that be different from what Karl Rove et al. were doing in the White House with their RNC laptops and blackberries?

According to the finger-wagging editorials from 1997, Vice President Gore violated Section 607 of Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code, which states there is to be no solicitation of campaign funds in federal government offices. The law isn’t voided just because someone is using his own blackberry. Even so, we don’t know if anyone in the Bush White House was soliciting campaign funds, so let’s go on …

Right now details about the emails are coming out rather quickly. We can fairly accurately call it a “growing controversy,” I would say. But before we get too bogged down in details, can we take a moment to think about where governing ends and politicking begins?

After the dust settles, some legislators might want to revise federal code about political business conducted in the White House. That might be a good idea. However, I don’t think it’s possible, or necessarily desirable, to write laws that cover every possible contingency and keep the entire White House staff under constant surveillance to be sure the law is being followed. I think the biggest insurance against gross abuse is to elect presidents who are genuinely interested in governing. Then, one would hope, those presidents would appoint people to work in their administrations who were experienced in and dedicated to good government.

President Bush, on the other hand, consistently appoints people who are Republican operatives first and servants of the People second, if at all. And just about everything in government that could be bleeped, is bleeped.

23 thoughts on “Their Own Petard

  1. I’m very interested in this e-mail thing. Waxman is mostly correct when he says you can’t lose e-mail, not today … given the inherent nature of the technology, plus legal requirements in the past couple decades mandating data be saved, backed up, plus the amount of research that has gone into data retrieval technologies … those e-mails DO exist, SOMEWHERE. And they are retrievable. Almost guaranteed…


    Unless someone has gone in and deliberately hunted down and destroyed every trace of data in every system it touched. This would have been a major, major undertaking, and the only reason it would have been done is an attempt to thwart the law.

    So, either they’re obstructing justice by refusing to actually look for the e-mails in question, or they obstructed justice by deliberately deleting every trace of the e-mails in question. There does not seem to be a third option.

    So my question is … what in hell is in those e-mails that they would commit crimes to be sure they are never seen?


  2. Unless someone has gone in and deliberately hunted down and destroyed every trace of data in every system it touched. This would have been a major, major undertaking, and the only reason it would have been done is an attempt to thwart the law.

    OK, nephew, you’re a computer geek (I mean that affectionately). If this had been done, would someone be able to tell? Would the deletion operation leave traces of itself somewhere in cyberspace?

  3. a war czar?..Oh, brother!

    We need another maggot feeding on the corpse.

    Who’s our current drug czar?…glorified welfare for the inner circle. What a joke.

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  5. Maha,

    Quick answer to your question about traces from deliberate deletion of email: Yes! A good forensic analysis of the contents of the hard drives of the machines through which those emails passed would almost certainly turn up evidence of deliberate tampering. Somebody sufficiently subtle and knowledgeable could make it much harder, but it would be virtually impossible to not leave traces.

    Long answer: if the hard drives were not backed up and were subsequently replaced entirely, those emails are gone. This is completely unbelievable (that they weren’t backed up), but that’s about the only way it could happen and not leave traces. Another method would be to routinely delete the email, deliberately without backing up, and immediately afterward scrub the hard drives (writing random patterns over the unused data several times.)

    I seem to recall some recent laws that require data retention for years on the part of ISP’s and that would make such operation on the part of ISP’s illegal. Perhaps someone who follows the law could comment.

  6. I’m certain there was some kind of a dust-up regarding emails when Clinton was President and there was a lot of talk regarding putting in systems where emails wouldn’t disappear…at any rate, this is all entirely to convenient and typical of this current administration. I wish karma would hurry up and catch up with this bunch!

  7. I’m also a computer geek, and although computer forensics is not my specific area of expertise, I will take a stab at Maha’s question in #2. The answer: it depends on what policies are implemented on the server. In the financial industry there are very specific audit trail policies in order to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley. So if someone goes in and deletes something, that should generate an audit trail on a secure server or log that the deleter cannot access, so that they can’t cover their tracks. But even in the absense of this kind of system, it’s very hard to delete a file short of physically destoying the hard disk. When you tell a computer to delete a file, the computer just marks the file as “ok to delete” without actually deleting it at that time. As time goes on, the file will gradually get (partially) overwritten when the computer needs the space to store a later file in. A computer forensics person will almost always be able to recover at least some of the old file. You can do a more thorough job of deleting the file by using “disk shredder” software, but that would leave evidence of definite intent to destroy the file.

    One other thing, the idea that the White House accidentally deleted 5 million emails while migrating from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook just doesn’t pass the smell test. Basic Sysadmin 101 says that you thoroughly back up your old data before undertaking such an operation. I’m not saying all 5 million emails were incriminating but there must have been a hell of a lot of stuff that the regime didn’t want to come to the light of day.

  8. Answers given already seem to be correct to me. Given the number of different places that could have copies of these e-mails, what a careful, competent investigator will find will be either recoverable data, or pretty clear proof that deliberate steps were taken to make the data unrecoverable.
    I think. I’m not an expert in this particular area, plus there are a lot of unknown variables yet.


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  10. Interesting info from the technically savvy among us (not me, certainly). It sounds like effectively covering tracks would be way, way too complicated for this bunch! I think those emails will be coming home to roost any day now.

    And lord, yes, remember the flap over Clinton and Gore using White House resources for Democratic Party business? A mere mote in the eye of BushCo. IOKIYAR, IOKIYAR… someone ought to set that to music.

    Here’s some nostalgia for the over-45 crowd. Remember the magazine-cover photo of Nixon’s secretary, trying to show how she “accidentally” erased that 18-minute section of tape? It looked like a yoga position for the deskbound. (Bonus trivia question, what was the secretary’s last name? Rosemary _____? I’m blanking.)

  11. I am not a computer geek; but, what I have read above seems accurate to what I have learned in the past 22 years of working on computers in a Federal Government office. One thing I know is that all of most everyone’s important emails are probably in a file folder somewhere because despite all this technology, it seems paper is still the best way to have a copy of that email when the boss wants it. Here is what I would like to see the Dems do. I think they should stop pussy footing around and with the RNC they don’t need to. They should go to the RNC offices with search warrants and subpoenas and armed guards. They should remove all the servers and take them into custody and have their own computer experts go over them and take what evidence can be found. They should also search all the files and take whatever appears to be evidence of a crime–just as what was done to Rep. Jefferson. Then, they should go to the homes of all employees of the RNC with search warrants and subpoenas. I think all the court rulings that went against the Clintons that caused testimony and evidence to be used in all the bogus investigations should be used to get what is needed from the White House. And, I don’t think the private homes of the employees (e.g., Rove, Goodling, etc.) should be off limits of the search warrants and subpoenas. I am tired of the games, the spin, the nonsense that goes on preventing justice being served. I believe that this country could go belly up before any of us know it if someone doesn’t take some swift action NOW.

  12. Absolutely, Swami — unlimited points.

    Now I won’t lie awake trying to think of the woman’s name.

  13. I can think of no greater poetic justice for a president who actually said the words “rumors on the internets” in public to have his criminality revealed by essentially the same blithering ignorance of reality that allowed him to make such a hokey remark in the first place.

    comment 12 takes dead aim.

  14. One other thing. Didn’t Bushies National Guard records just “go-missing” also? This is how this bunch operates.

  15. Can Congress request the emails from the ISP(s) involved?
    Will they before the White House orders the ISPs to destroy them?

  16. The good thing is that Gonzales has got to give Congress a bullshit story on Tuesday and there are a lot of unrevealed e-mails that might possibly surface after the fact to trip him up. It makes the lying process much more stressful. Already an e-mail has appeared that makes Sampson’s testimony questionable. Maybe Monica Goodling’s ‘perjury trap” excuse makes sense after all.

  17. Too bad the Bush administration either didn’t read Mark Twain or ignored him. His advice:

    “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

    And, to add with the 21st Century in mind–If you tell the truth, you don’t have to give up your vacation to rehearse your lies that you plan to tell Congress.

  18. you don’t have to give up your vacation to rehearse your lies

    LMAO…Old Gonzales is practicing a variation of the Evelyn Woods speed reading method..I hear he’s up to 60 lies per minute. I wonder if he does his lying sessions wearing sweats like Rocky Balboa. Maybe a little background music of Pat Benitar singing,”Hit me with your best shot”… Fire away!

  19. An additional computer geek speaking up.

    It is *really* hard to delete files permanantly without there being ways to reconstruct the files. You might be able to do it, on certain simple systems, without there being much trace, but it’s easiest to do it when you have a very simple system. An enterprise-ready e-mail system (like I’d imagine the RNC would use for reliable communication and storage) would have enough safeguards that it would essentially require someone risking jail time for obstruction of justice to try to delete those e-mails without them being able to be recovered in some way or another. They couldn’t just claim incompetence… it would take too much work to clean up everything; it couldn’t be an accident.

    Of course, how easy files are to recover depends on the resources you have to apply. If the NSA wanted to recover data from your hard drive, you’d pretty much have to physically destroy the disk platters to prevent them from getting what they wanted. They have the technical know-how and resources that even if you’ve done a normal “delete and mulitple over-write” they might be able to reconstruct a particular track of data from them. Hard drives don’t write data in *exactly* the same track each time, just close enough to be reliably read and written, so searching the disks carefully enough can find data that one would imagine *had* to be gone.

    (The moral of this story is, nothing less than encryption keeps your data safely unreadable… and the NSA is better than you’d think at breaking encyrption.)

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