Political MoJo

RE: Those Missing White House Emails

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 3:23 PM EDT

Subpoenas have been authorized, the press is swarming, the Bush administration's flacks are taking a pounding — I think it's safe to say that the White House email controversy has officially blossomed into a full-blown scandal. This week the White House acknowledged that it may have "lost" an unspecified number of emails that were sent by staffers who used non-governmental, RNC-issued email addresses in what seemed at times a conscious effort to prevent their correspondence from becoming public record. "We screwed up, and we're trying to fix it," White House spokesperson Dana Perino told the press yesterday. She noted that only "a small slice" of the president's staff — among them Karl Rove and his deputies — used email addresses, along with BlackBerrys and laptops, supplied by the RNC. However, no mention has been made — and it's possible that in the end there may be no way of knowing — of just how many administration officials were circumventing the White House servers by using conventional Web mail services, such as Yahoo! or Gmail. This also appears to have been a fairly common practice among staffers who, as one administration official told U.S. News & World Report in 2004, "don't want my email made public."

As the White House comes under increasing scrutiny, the picture just keeps getting bleaker. We learned yesterday, for instance, that until August 2004 the RNC had a policy of deleting emails on its servers that were more than 30 days old. After "legal inquires," presumably those of CIA leak prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the committee began saving the correspondence of White House officials. So, since Karl Rove is said to use his RNC address 95 percent of the time, and is a well known email fanatic, the RNC should have quite a hefty record of his communications, right? Strangely, the RNC doesn't have records of a single Rove email until 2005, which, as the committee's counsel Rob Kelner told members of Henry Waxman's Government Reform Committee, may have been because Rove was deleting them himself. This, it seems, is what led the RNC to remove Rove's ability to delete his messages and place an automatic archiving function solely on his account. Today, Rove's lawyer Robert Luskin explained that his client didn't intentionally purge his emails — rather, in the course of routine housekeeping, he would delete emails to keep his inbox in order. "His understanding starting very, very early in the administration was that those e-mails were being archived," Luskin said.

Beyond Rove's missing emails, and others the White House believes may have been lost due to the RNC's email purging policy, it seems there is another trove of emails that are unaccounted for — millions of them, actually. The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington reported yesterday that, according to two sources, "in addition to the so-called political emails sent through private accounts, there are over five million emails sent on White House servers over a two-year period that are also missing." In 2005, according to CREW, the White House Office of Administration discovered a problem with its archiving system and, after looking further into the issue, realized "there were hundreds of days in which emails were missing for one or more of the EOP [Executive Office of the President] components subject to the PRA [Presidential Records Act]." Though a plan was drawn up to recover the missing emails, CREW says, no action was ever taken to retrieve the lost messages.

In its report, CREW also raises two issues that I brought up in my original story on the controversy. The first is the Hatch Act "excuse," as CREW puts it. The White House has maintained (and the press hasn't challenged) that administration officials with political duties were using a separate, RNC-administered email system in order to avoid breaching Hatch, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job. This certainly seems like a reasonable explanation, unless you actually read the law. It states clearly that Senate-confirmed presidential appointees and staffers whose salaries are paid from an appropriation for the Executive Office of the President (read: White House officials) are allowed to engage in political activity that is otherwise prohibited to other federal employees — for instance, they are allowed to talk strategy with the RNC anytime, anywhere — as long as the associated costs are not picked up by taxpayers. While in the Clinton White House separate computer terminals were apparently set aside for staffers with political duties, the use of partisan email addresses is a new and highly unusual wrinkle. As Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy told me a couple weeks back, "It shows how closely intertwined the White House is with its partisan allies. The fact that the White House and the RNC are working hand in hand and White House officials are using RNC emails is itself remarkable."

The other question I raised has to do with an intriguing line in a January 2006 letter from Patrick Fitzgerald to Scooter Libby's defense team that's buried deep in the USA v. Libby docket. In it, Fitzgerald informs Libby's lawyers that the prosecution had "learned that not all email of the Office of Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system." Karl Rove's lawyer told the AP today that Fitzgerald had access to emails from Rove's various accounts. He also noted that, in addition to the White House, the prosecutor subpoenaed records from the RNC and the president's reelection campaign. "There's never been any suggestion that Fitzgerald had anything less than a complete record," Luskin said.

Considering that we now know that millions of White House emails are potentially MIA, all of them drafted during a time period that would have been relevant to Fitzgerald's investigation, if that hasn't been suggested before it certainly will be now.

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FCC Levies Largest Collective Fine in History of U.S. Broadcasting

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 3:01 PM EDT

"Payola" is the term for a practice in which radio broadcasters accept gifts and money from recording companies in exchange for playing music those companies select. Payola is fairly common, and actually legal if, when they play a track, radio broadcasters disclose who paid them to play it. (The FCC's rules on payola are easy to find, and quite clear.) Of course, you never hear a radio DJ saying, "We've been paid $3,000 to play this next J. Lo. track, so enjoy!"

The FCC is sending a message to change all that. Clear Channel Communications, CBS Radio, Entercom Communications, and Citadel Broadcasting have been fined a collective $12.5 million and will now be required to track every gift they receive worth more than $25. The fine is the largest in the history of American broadcasting.

My favorite part of the ruling, though, is this:

On top of the fines, the radio companies voluntarily agreed to launch a new program for independent artists... This local artist showcase commits the industry to 4,200 hours of airplay across the four companies between 6 a.m. and midnight.

In a previous payola investigation, Sony BMG Music Entertainment -- which includes Arista Records, Columbia Records, and Sony Music -- had to pay $10 million after then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer went after it.

Mia Farrow Calls Beijing 2008 the "Genocide Olympics"

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 2:52 PM EDT

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Mia Farrow's targeted pressure to curb the Darfur genocide "could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not," writes Helene Cooper in the New York Times.

For two years, China has used its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to protect the Sudanese government from UN sanctions. More than half of Sudan's oil exports go to China, and Beijing is the Sudan's leading arms supplier. But Mia Farrow last month started a campaign to spur Beijing into humanitarian cooperation. She called on Steven Spielberg to use his position as an artistic adviser to the Games to pressure China. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, she warned, Spielberg could "go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games." Four days later, Spielberg sent a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao. Days later, China dispatched a high-ranking official to Sudan.

The turnaround is "as a classic study of how a pressure campaign, aimed to strike Beijing in a vulnerable spot at a vulnerable time, could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not," writes Helene Cooper. China has still not agreed to sanctions. But it's been less than two weeks since Farrow's op-ed. And according to J. Stephen Morrison, a Sudan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, China values its image more than this oil from Sudan. "Their equity is to be seen as an ethical, rising global power," Morrison says, "not to get in bed with every sleazy government that comes up with a little oil." And the Olympics have been a major source of national pride. The night Beijing won the bid to host the Games, I joined about 200,000 revellers celebrating in Tiananmen Square, dancing and singing; it was the biggest gathering there since 1989.

SC House Hell-Bent on Violating Women's Rights to Promote Fetus'

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 2:22 PM EDT

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Update in the controversy surrounding a new South Carolina abortion bill: The state senate has removed the provision that would force a woman to view her ultrasound before going through with an abortion.

The state's only female senator, Linda Short (D-Chester), says the revised bill will likely pass the Senate. Some members of the House are gearing up for a fight despite being warned by the Attorney General that making a woman look at something she doesn't want to is against the law. Read more about the drama here.

—Nicole McClelland

FDA Sued For Politicizing Women's Health

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 1:08 PM EDT

The famed Family Research Council ("defending family, faith and freedom") is accusing the FDA of "politicizing women's health." Because before Plan B came around a woman's body was her own business? Right. The scoop, over at TBM.

Hunger Strike Begins for Stanford Students

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 1:05 PM EDT

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, students at Stanford University are holding a hunger strike until their administration agrees to pay all university workers a living wage. The students will be filing regular dispatches of their progress, with photography, for Mother Jones.

Check out their first report, and learn more about why they are fasting, at this page. Check that link in the coming days for more on the students' fight.

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Imus Loses His Bully Pulpit

| Thu Apr. 12, 2007 6:48 PM EDT

CBS dropped Don Imus' morning shock-jock radio program, Imus in the Morning. Read more on The Riff.

The Most Boring YouTube Video Ever

| Thu Apr. 12, 2007 6:39 PM EDT

Wow. I've seen YouTube videos that are ridiculous, provocative, nonsensical, funny and utterly meaningless, but Mitt Romney's latest entry definitely earns the least-interesting award.

His snooze-fest video is part of YouTube's "You Choose '08" initiative that lets candidates showcase their campaigns through videos.

Actually, it's nice to get a glimpse of a 2008 presidential candidate speaking candidly, alone, without annoying banners, campaign posters, megaphones or loud crowds, so props to YouTube's News and Politics site.

If YouTube videos are too literal for you, try investigating virtual communities like Second Life, where Barack Obama has set up shop and posted a national webcast of his "living room conversation" with supporters.

The argument here is that campaigning with web tools like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and Second Life open up the door for a new sense of "intimacy" with candidates, but I'm not so sure I'm buying it. Romney's video put me to sleep. Obama's virtual self doesn't even look anything like him. At this point I'm not really feeling more connected to candidates through web campaigns, I'm feeling bored.

--Gary Moskowitz

Rove and Co. Broke Federal Law With Email Scam

| Thu Apr. 12, 2007 4:59 PM EDT

Our friends at CREW are back in the news. They've put out a report saying "the Executive Office of the President (EOP) has lost over FIVE MILLION emails generated between March 2003 and October 2005." The White House was apparently given a plan to recover those emails, but has chosen to do nothing. I'm going to go ahead and guess that the plan to uncover those emails will never be undertaken unless done so with the power of a federal subpoena, because those emails were meant to be lost.

But guess what? Turns out, this is all illegal! Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post asked a White House spokesman to read aloud the White House's policy on email retention, and this is what he said:

"Federal law requires the preservation of electronic communications sent or received by White House staff... The official EOP e-mail system is designed to automatically comply with records management requirements."

Federal law? Holy cow! Deleting your emails is a federal offense, and the official email system is designed so emails will never be "accidentally" deleted. These guys are totally on the hook, right? Wait, there's more?

"Personnel working on behalf of the EOP [Executive Office of the President] are expected to only use government-provided e-mail services for all official communication."

So using email addresses belonging to the RNC and laptops and Blackberries on loan from the same is a violation of policy?

Bring in Patrick Fitzgerald now! Everyone is going to prison!

Stanford Students Hold Hunger Strike for a Living Wage

| Thu Apr. 12, 2007 4:54 PM EDT

If you are a regular reader of Mother Jones you know that we love activism from the college kids. We've done thirteen annual campus activism roundups, the most recent of which can be found here.

Well, we're in for a doozy. Four Stanford students are beginning a hunger strike tonight in an effort to win a living wage for Stanford's workers.

This is well-tread ground. Living wages for kitchen staff, maintenance workers, groundskeepers, and construction workers is often a contentious issue on college campuses, with students and workers fighting for a livable wage and administrators resisting, then frequently adopting more economically just policies in fits and starts.

That's certainly the case at Stanford. In the winter and spring of 2003, workers and students rallied for a living wage and President John L. Hennessy appeared to cave by agreeing to a living wage with certain restrictions. In time it became clear that those restrictions excluded enough Stanford workers to render the policy meaningless, and in May 2003 students fasted for a week until Hennessy agreed to appoint a commission to examine the issue.

In June 2004, the commission recommended striking down five of Hennessy's seven restrictions and said, "If Stanford University operates a "living wage" policy, it should not attach so many conditions to its applicability that it has the effect of excusing many Contracted workers from that policy. A "living wage" policy that appends a string of conditions creates inequities among similar workers and risks giving the unfortunate impression that Stanford's employment policies do not really mean what they are proclaimed to be." Hennessy agreed to consider and possibly adopt the commission's recommendations.

Almost three years later nothing has happened and student activists say they are back at "square one." Thus, another fast. Their demand: "That the living wage be expanded to apply to all campus workers regardless of the dollar value of employee contract; duration of employment; amount of hours worked per week; union membership status; and worksite location." You can learn more about the group holding the hunger strike, and its demands, at this website.

The students can thank Stanford for wireless internet at least, and while they are occupying a public space on Stanford's campus and refusing to imbibe, they will be filing regular dispatches for Mother Jones. Think of it as activism in action. Check the Mother Jones homepage over the next few days for regular updates.