Hillary Clinton‘s personal email habits have been scrutinized by conservative media and politicians for almost two years now. But according to a report from Newsweek, a “larger and deeper email conspiracy, one involving war, lies, a private server run by the Republican Party and contempt of Congress citations” had gone unpunished.
Between 2003 and 2009, the Bush Administration “lost” 22 million emails, many of which contained information regarding the run-up to the Iraq war and the fraudulent claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. According to Newsweek, the Bush White House used a private email server just as Clinton did and failed to store its emails, as required by law. When a congressional subpoena was issued to recover the emails, Bush & Co. failed to comply.
One of the most troubling things about the Bush Administration’s email practices were “blackout periods” which left emails from the office of then-Vice President Dick Cheney nowhere to be found.
“That the vice president’s office, widely characterized as the most powerful vice president in history, should have no archived emails in its accounts for scores of days—especially days when there was discussion of whether to invade Iraq—beggared the imagination,” National Security Archive director Thomas Blanton told Newsweek.
In 1978, the Presidential Records Act (PRA) was passed, mandating that all presidential and vice presidential records created after January 20, 1981 be preserved. The mandate required that “the public, not the president, owned the records.” The following year, the Reagan administration installed the White House’s rudimentary first email system.
Nevertheless, the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations failed to maintain adequate email records, and in 1989 a federal lawsuit forced the White House to comply with the PRA.
The suit sparked a last-minute court order, issued in the waning hours of the first Bush presidency, that prevented 6,000 White House email backup tapes from being erased.
When Bill Clinton entered the White House, he requested, with the help of his lawyers, that his emails be treated as personal. George Stephanopoulos, who was the White House communications director at the time, said that his boss, like Bush, didn’t want subsequent and potentially unfriendly administrations having access to the emails.
The Clinton White House eventually settled the suit, and White House aide John Podesta—now Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman—even invited members of the National Security Archive into the White House to demonstrate how the new system worked. If anyone tried to delete an email, a message would pop up on screen indicating that to do so would be in violation of the PRA.
Fast forward to 2003, a whistleblower revealed that the Bush Administration was failing to save its emails, identifying the date the emails began disappearing as January 1, 2003. The Bush White House said that the emails were lost when they switched to a new server, a claim that many found to be suspicious.
In May of 2008, Bush Administration lawyers claimed that about 3 months of email records were lost in the early days of the Iraq War, allowing Bush aides to avoid a court-ordered deadline to describe the contents of emails deleted in 2003 between March—when the U.S. invaded Iraq—and September.”
They also refused to give the NSA nonprofit any emails relating to the Iraq War, despite the PRA, blaming a system upgrade that had deleted up to 5 million emails. The plaintiffs eventually contended that the Bush administration knew about the problem in 2005 but did nothing to fix it.
Eventually, the Bush White House admitted it had lost 22 million emails, not 5 million. Then, in December 2009—well into Barack Obama’s administration—the White House said it found 22 million emails, dated between 2003 and 2005, that it claimed had been mislabeled. That cache was given to the National Archives, and it and other plaintiffs agreed, on December 14, 2009, to settle their lawsuit. But the emails have not yet been made available to the public.
In 2008, a bipartisan committee found White House aides Karl Rove and Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas in an investigation of U.S. attorneys who were fired for political reasons – an investigation that the deleted emails would have shed some light on. Rove’s lawyer claimed Rove did not “intentionally delete” any emails but was only conducting “the type of routine deletions people make to keep their inboxes orderly.”
Ultimately, no punishment was handed down and the Obama Administration chose not to pursue the matter.
You can read Newsweek’s full report here.