Solved: One WH Emails Mystery

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Well, I think I’ve solved one mystery related to the Bush administration’s White House email scandal. It’s a rather small one considering some of the larger questions hanging out there—the suspicious gap in the OVP emails being one of them—but it certainly did seem curious. I’m referring to the fact that, in 2003, contracting related a new White House email archiving system (a project that was abandoned just as it reached completion) was handled by the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service. You may recall that this particular division, which collects (or fails to) oil and gas royalties, was the subject of a series of scathing reports by the agency’s inspector general. Beyond run-of-the-mill corruption and graft, the IG reported “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.” (One MMS official slept with oil company employees.) 

The contracting revelation emerged late yesterday afternoon, when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released a trove of documents, which it had received from the White House, concerning the Bush administration’s email archiving problems. The watchdog group, too, wondered why procurement for the White House was being handled by Interior. Flipping through the documents, I found the Minerals Management Service procurement official identified as the point of contact on one of the contracts, and this morning I gave her a call. Her name is Robin Doyle, and she’s now working for another branch of Interior. She sounded a bit startled to be hearing from a reporter. For those of you thinking there’s a conspiracy lurking beneath the surface here (Rove or Cheney must have been behind this!), I’m sorry to let you down. The reasons for Interior’s involvement are apparently entirely bereaucratic. According to Doyle, Interior is home to an interagency procurement office. “It’s a contract shop for any agency to use. It’s perfectly legal, fine. Various agencies use it. It’s no big deal.”

As it happens, our Washington bureau chief, David Corn, stumbled upon a similar White House contracting mystery a couple years ago, which also led him to Interior. He was looking into a White House contract with defense contractor MZM, the company run by Mitchell Wade, who in 2006 pleaded guilty to bribing Duke Cunningham to the tune of more than $1 million in exchange for millions in government work. This particular contract for $140,000 was supposedly for office furniture and computer equipment for Dick Cheney’s office. David noted that the amount of the contract raised eyebrows, because it matched the price tag of the yacht, the Duke-Stir, that Wade had bought for Cunningham. “This raises the intriguing possibility that Wade that summer needed money to buy Cunningham the yacht and—presto—a White House contract materialized.” The MZM contract, like those for the White House email system, was handled by Interior’s interagency contracting office. David reported:

This office was established during the Clinton administration as a good-government measure aimed at consolidating contracting efforts. But this procurement reform has become subject to abuse. A recent Senate armed services committee hearing examined how this change in the procurement system has allowed agencies to escape effective oversight. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report slammed the Interior Department’s interagency contracting office for “significant problems” in handling Pentagon contracts granted to CACI International for interrogation and “other intelligence-related services” in Iraq.

So, there you have it. One White House email mystery solved. Many more to go.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate