Saturday, March 17, 2007

Those who refuse to learn from Ollie North's mistakes are doomed to repeat them

Before he was rescued by, among others, his bête noire the ACLU, Ollie North was in hot water during the Iran-Contra investigation because of emails, many supposed by their authors to have been deleted, that were still rattling around in PROFS, the email system used by the White House at the time.

When Dubya and Unca Dick entered the White House some years later, the rumored dyslexia of the former and the legendary secretiveness of the latter (plus the fact that half the list of Iran-Contra alumni were congaing back into DC right behind them) made it not very surprising that email use was discouraged among the key players.

Which makes it ironic that part of the reason that AG Gonzales is in hot water tonight--not the whole reason, not by a long shot, but a part--is a great big ol' whack of archived emails that House investigators have gotten their hands on. Dan Froomkin of the Post reports:
[I]n spite of the embarrassing revelations contained in the e-mails turned over by the Justice Department to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, the general rule at the White House is that if it's really sensitive, don't put it in writing -- certainly not in an e-mail.

That stuff gets archived.

The president himself, for instance, never uses e-mail at all.

And it now turns out that some of his aides sometimes avoid using their official White House e-mail accounts -- the ones that get automatically archived.

As I wrote in yesterday's column, Tuesday's document dump -- which initiated from the Justice Department, not the White House -- includes e-mails from J. Scott Jennings, Karl Rove's deputy at the White House, coming from an e-mail address at That's a domain owned by the Republican National Committee. […]
It's my understanding that the Presidential Records Act covers staff e-mails -- no matter what domain they come from -- as long as they are generated "in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President."

Ironically, this would appear to be the flipside of the issue that arose during the Clinton administration, when Vice President Al Gore improperly made fund-raising calls from his White House office. Here, rather than having party business being conducted using official resources, you have official business being conducted using party resources.

Mark my words: The only way the next Republican Presidency (whenever that happens) will make it to the end its elected term without bringing scandals like this down upon itself will be an executive order requiring that all White House communications must be written on Fruit Roll-Ups and then eaten. They just don't seem to have it in them to play straight; their only hope is to find a better way to ditch the paper [sic] trail.

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