Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Monday, June 18, 2007
We'll play in the sunshine...
Here in Florida, we have what's called the "Sunshine law" -- which states that no two (or more) government employees or other public officials may conduct official business outside of a clearly public meeting. No backroom tetes-a-tete, no private lunches, nada.

In Washington, we have what's called the Hatch Act -- which prohibits federal and certain state and civil service employees from engaging in proscribed political activity, including conducting partisan business using government resources. The Act was named after a New Mexico Senator named Carl Hatch, and back in 1939:
The Hatch Act grew into a general tradition of electoral reform. In essence, it finally did away with the last vestiges of patronage, and one could say it was the end of the civil service reforms started in the 1880s. But the most significant impetus, affecting both its timing and its content, was the widespread allegation that Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds had been misused by staff members and local Democratic Party politicians during the congressional elections of 1938.
And as for the substance:
The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of executive branch employees of the federal government, District of Columbia government and some state and local employees who work in connection with federally funded programs. In 1993, Congress passed legislation that significantly amended the Hatch Act as it applies to federal and D.C. employees (5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326). (These amendments did not change the provisions that apply to state and local employees. 5 U.S.C. §§ 1501- 1508.) Under the amendments most federal and D.C. employees are now permitted to take an active part in political management and political campaigns. A small group of federal employees are subject to greater restrictions and continue to be prohibited from engaging in partisan political management and partisan political campaigns.
Ah, and who is in this "small group of federal employees" who are "subject to greater restrictions? Why it includes:

Administrative Law Judges (positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372)
Central Imagery Office
Central Intelligence Agency
Contract Appeals Boards (positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 5372a)
Criminal Division (Department of Justice)
Defense Intelligence Agency
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Elections Commission
Merit Systems Protection Board
National Security Agency
National Security Council
Office of Criminal Investigation (Internal Revenue Service)
Office of Investigative Programs (Customs Service)
Office of Law Enforcement (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms)
Office of Special Counsel
Secret Service
Senior Executive Service (career positions described at 5 U.S.C. § 3132(a)(4))

Uh oh... did you says Senior Executive Service? Let's pursue... Oh, and there's another law we're going to want to remember, called the Public Records Act. But we'll get to that later ... First: here are some exerpts from today's Washington Post:
Almost 90 White House officials have maintained private e-mail accounts on the server of the Republican National Committee, including top advisers such as Karl Rove and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, according to a House committee report released today.

The disclosure means the practice is much more common than Bush administration officials have previously acknowledged, the report noted.

The RNC has preserved more than 140,000 e-mails sent or received by Rove, but only 130 were written before President Bush won re-election in 2004, according to the report. The committee has preserved another 100,000 e-mails from two of Rove's top lieutenants, former White House political director Sara M. Taylor and deputy political director W. Scott Jennings, according to the House Oversight Committee.

But the RNC has no e-mail records for 51 of 88 White House officials -- such as Ken Mehlman, the White House political director from 2001 through early 2003 -- who used their servers in addition to government e-mail accounts, according to a summary of the panel's report.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), has been investigating whether the e-mail accounts run by the RNC and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign committee violated the Presidential Records Act, which requires that every White House official "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."

The House and Senate Judiciary committees also are seeking the RNC e-mails of White House officials, particularly Rove, Taylor and Jennings, to examine whether Bush's top advisers played roles in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year.

... Citing executive privilege, President Bush has refused to let any of his West Wing advisers turn over government documents or e-mails to congressional committees conducting investigations of his administration. The RNC has stated its intention to first provide White House officials' e-mails to White House Counsel Fred Fielding to determine whether Bush will want to withhold those as well. ...

... In early March, when the RNC e-mail trail first was raised during investigations of the U.S. attorney dismissals and the alleged politicization of the General Services Administration, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said "a handful" of White House advisers used the private accounts. That number was upgraded to about 50 a few weeks later. The RNC and White House initially said that almost all of Rove's e-mails were destroyed.

Just 130 of the 140,216 Rove e-mails come from Bush's first term, none of them before November 2003. Susan Ralston, Rove's former executive assistant, who privately gave a deposition to committee aides, told the committee that Mehlman used his RNC account "frequently, daily."

She added that other officials for whom there are no e-mail records also used the private accounts regularly.

The report shows that Waxman plans to investigate Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's knowledge of the use of the private e-mails during his term as White House counsel, and whether he took steps to preserve the records.

Waxman's panel also is threatening to subpoena the Bush-Cheney campaign committee. Eleven White House officials use e-mail accounts on the committee's servers, but it has refused to provide any more information to the committee.
Oh, and the Presidential Records Act? Here 'tis:

The Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, 44 U.S.C. ß2201-2207, governs the official records of Presidents and Vice Presidents created or received after January 20, 1981. The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which Presidents must manage their records.

Specifically, the Presidential Records Act:

Defines and states public ownership of the records.

Places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President.

Allows the incumbent President to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value, once he has obtained the views of the Archivist of the United States on the proposed disposal.

Requires that the President and his staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records.

Establishes a process for restriction and public access to these records. Specifically, the PRA allows for public access to Presidential records through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) beginning five years after the end of the Administration, but allows the President to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to twelve years. The PRA also establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent Administrations to obtain special access to records that remain closed to the public, following a thirty-day notice period to the former and current Presidents..
Requires that Vice-Presidential records are to be treated in the same way as Presidential records.

Oh, and since we're talking about Bush, here, there are amendments. Here's his:
Executive Order 13233
This Executive Order, issued by President George W. Bush on November 1, 2001, supersedes the previous Executive Order. The Bush Executive Order also includes the documents of former Vice Presidents.
The E.O. was drafted by none other than Alberto Gonzales, back when he was White House counsel. Essentially, it severely limits access to the records of previous presidents, including Bush's father, and Bill Clinton, over the objection of Clinton, by the way...:
"...reflecting military, diplomatic, or national security secrets, Presidential communications, legal advice, legal work, or the deliberative processes of the President and the President's advisers, and to do so in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court's decisions in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), and other cases..."
The order also reversed a previous executive order by Ronald Reagan in 1989, which called for a delay in the release of presidential records if the out-going president requests it, and it altered the relative openness of presidential records that had been in place since the Act was passed to preserve the records of Richard Nixon from being destroyed by his henchmen. More on the history here. Intriguingly enough, the order was issued by Dubya just 60 days after 9/11, on November 1, 2001.

Go figure...

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posted by JReid @ 8:08 PM  
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