Waxman asks White House about e-mail, political briefings

After spending a good portion of a five-hour hearing March 28 pressing General Services Administration Administrator Lurita Doan about political meetings on government time, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is pushing for answers from the White House.

In separate letters to Karl Rove, assistant to President Bush and deputy chief of staff, and Fred Fielding, counsel to Bush, committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) asked for more specific information on the White House’s e-mail policies and the Jan. 26 presentation by Rove’s deputy, J. Scott Jennings.

Waxman wants Fielding to address by April 5 the use of non-White House e-mail accounts and text messaging for official communications. He asked Fielding to address five areas including policies and guidance on appropriate use of nongovernmental e-mail accounts; staff members’ obligation to preserve e-mail records, including those created by nongovernmental e-mail accounts; and any agreements entered in by the White House and the Republican National Committee, the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign or any other organizations regarding e-mail accounts provided by these organizations.

Waxman also wants documents related to White House efforts to preserve presidential records that were created on nongovernmental e-mail accounts.

He also requested a meeting with Fielding and other appropriate employees during the week of April 2.

Waxman followed his letter to Fielding with one to Rove, asking him to address By April 13 a political meeting at GSA’s headquarters in January.

“The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service issued an 11-page report that found that both the presentation itself and Ms. Doan’s comments could be violations of the federal Hatch Act,” Waxman wrote.

Waxman said CRS said the White House presentation alone may cross the line into being an impermissible “political activity” under the Hatch Act.

The letter asks Rove to answer seven questions, including:
  • Did Rove approve of Jennings’ presentation and participation in the meeting?
  • Does the White House have a policy addressing where and when an employee can make political presentations? And please explain the legal authority that lets the White House make political presentations on federal property during business hours.
  • Did Rove or Jennings consult with the White House counsel’s office about whether the presentation would violate the Hatch Act?
  • Has Rove, Jennings or other members of the White House give similar political briefings? If so, when, where and with whom?
  • Who prepared the presentation, did they use federal funds and under what legal authority where they allowed to use federal funds to prepare political briefings?
  • Did Jennings or his staff use nongovernment accounts to communicate with Doan?

Waxman and other majority members of the committee expressed grave concern over Jennings’ presentation at GSA and the fact that Doan couldn’t remember whether she had commented on how the political appointees could help get Republican candidates elected.

“This appears to be a textbook example of what should never happen at a federal agency,” Waxman said at the hearing. “You can’t engage in partisan political activity on government time.”

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