The Committee of Oversight and Government Reform has released its initial findings after investigating the use of parallel email accounts by officials in Bush's White House.
According to the Presidential Records Act, White House officials are obliged to keep and preserve all communications which they send on official government business. But some 88 Bush officials ignored this law. Instead, they used addresses supplied by the Republican National Committee (RNC), which raises funds and promotes the Republican Party.
It also appears that White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales knew officials were using these accounts for official communications but did nothing about it.
The committee first learnt of the parallel email system when investigating which White House officials had contact with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Karl Rove's PA, Susan Ralston, sent an email to Abramoff's associate Todd Boulanger, which said: "I now have an RNC BlackBerry which you can use to email me at any time. No security issues like my WH email."
In March 2007, the White House said only a handful of officials had such accounts. That number has now risen to 88.
Many of these emails have been destroyed. The RNC has no emails for 51 of the accounts, although it has saved over 140,000 emails sent or received by Karl Rove. But there are big gaps - only 130 emails to or from Rove exist from the first Presidential term - the first Rove email the RNC preserved dates from November 2003. For many other officials there are no emails dated before autumn 2006.
In total the RNC has preserved 674,367 emails of which 36 per cent were sent or received from .gov addresses - suggesting the mails related to government business.
The committee also dismissed the claim that officials acted out of ignorance. White House Counsel issued "clear written policies" in February 2001 that White House staff should only use the official White House email system for official communications.
Named officials included Andrew Card, former White House chief of staff, Ken Mehlman, former director of political affairs, and Scott Jennings, special assistant to the President.
The White House spokesman yesterday said the accounts were set up to avoid violations of the Hatch Act - designed to stop officials using government systems for party political purposes.
The next step in the investigation is to discover whether other copies of these missing mails exist. The committee has written to 25 government agencies to see if they have copies, and initial responses are encouraging.
It is also asking the White House for more information on why these emails were not preserved. And it is considering taking further action against the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign which is refusing to identify the full list of officials with RNC email addresses.
The committee said of the campaign's refusal: "This recalcitrance is an unwarranted obstacle to the committee's inquiry into potential violations of the Presidential Records Act."
A great clip of Bush talking about "The Google" and why he doesn't send or receive emails is available here.
The report, with names of all 88 officials, is available as a pdf here. ®