Tuesday, June 19, 2007

House Committee: Presidential Records Act Broken

t r u t h o u t | Report: By Matt Renner

A report issued by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Monday claims that there have been wide-spread violations of the Presidential Records Act (PRA) by numerous officials in the Bush Administration since 2001.

The report concluded that '[t]hese violations could be the most serious breach of the PRA in the 30-year history of the law.'

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 states that the records of a president, his immediate staff, and specific areas of the Executive Office of the President belong to the United States, not to the individual president or his staff. The act further states, 'the president shall take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented and that such records are maintained as presidential records pursuant to the requirements of this section and other provisions of law.'

The Chairman of the Oversight Committee, Representative Henry Waxman (D-California) issued a statement about the findings of the report. He said, 'We now know that senior officials in the White House made extensive use of their [unofficial] Republican National Committee (RNC) email accounts; that these accounts were used for official communications; and that the RNC destroyed an enormous volume of these communications."...

According to information given to Waxman's Committee, the RNC has possession of 140,216 emails from Rove's account and 66,018 emails from Taylor's. The White House sought preemptive access to these and other RNC emails and has not yet turned the emails over to congressional investigators. House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Michigan) sent a letter to the RNC requesting emails relating to the US attorney firing scandal. The White House intervened, threatening to invoke claims of executive privilege to prevent Congress from acquiring the documents.

Inherent in a claim of executive privilege would be an admission of a violation of the Presidential Records Act. Ohio State Law Professor Peter Shane described the situation as a legal "catch-22" for the Bush Administration. Shane said previously, "If they say that the subject matter of these communications makes them susceptible to executive privilege claims, then they should have been sent through official government channels, not through unofficial emails. If these communications are of this kind, the Bush Administration is clearly in violation of the Presidential Records Act."

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