June 28, 2010

Mother Jones on CREW’s call for investigation of White House over compliance with federal record-kee

By CREW Staff

As Nick Baumann from Mother Jones explains, CREW spent years monitoring -- and suing -- the Bush administration over its failures to comply with the Federal Records Act (FRA) and Presidential Records Act (PRA). Obama vowed transparency. But, we are starting to see allegations of similar behavior from staffers in the Obama administration:

On Friday, the New York Times reported that Obama administration officials use their personal email accounts and hold "off-campus" coffee shop meetings with lobbyists in an apparent attempt to skirt disclosure rules. Now Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a DC watchdog group, has penned a letter (PDF) to the House Oversight and Government Reform committee requesting a hearing and pointing to apparent "wilful violations" of federal law.


The allegations suggest that the Obama administration may be flouting the same recordkeeping laws that the Bush administration did: the federal and presidential records acts (FRA and PRA). Both laws require that White House staff retain records—including emails—related to their daily work. By using private email accounts to schedule coffee shop meetings with lobbyists (an apparent attempt to prevent these sessions from appearing in White House visitor logs), Obama officials can bypass normal email archiving procedures and "avoid the creation of any record that would memorialize those meetings." Since emails scheduling meetings with lobbyists would almost certainly be the type of emails that the FRA and PRA require White House officials to preserve, the Obama team is "in violation" of the FRA and the PRA, CREW writes.

During the Bush years, Democrats often criticized Republicans, including White House political director Karl Rove, for similar conduct—and CREW waged a years-long campaign to recover Bush emails that went missing or were never properly archived. In the early years of the Bush administration, for example, many White House officials used Republican National Committee email addresses to conduct official business. The RNC email archives were later lost; most of Rove's emails from his first few years in the White House will probably never be recovered.



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