- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Any attempt by White House officials to obscure executive-branch deliberations through the use of private e-mail addresses instead of official White House e-mail for official business is wrong, possibly illegal and outside the demand of accountability. But context is necessary to understand the flap over the use of private e-mail addresses by Justice Department officials in the deliberations over the dismissal of several U.S. attorneys.

“Scandal” is a word loosely used in Washington, and this “scandal” is hardly in the league with Sandy Berger’s stuffing documents from the Archives into his pants, for one brazen example. A lot more than a sporadic e-mail here and there is required to constitute “scandal.”

So far, a single document has emerged from more than 3,000 pages of Justice Department documents showing that White House aide Scott Jennings used a Republican National Committee e-mail address at least once to discuss the firing of the U.S. attorneys. That much was reported this week by the Wall Street Journal. In addition, the Journal reports that Susan Ralston, who resigned as adviser to Karl Rove, used four “outside” e-mail accounts with domain names such as “georgewbush.com” and “gwb.com” without describing how she used them or for what purpose. In fact, the chief purpose for mentioning her we can surmise, apart from the fact that she maintained multiple e-mail accounts (like a lot of others), is to quote an otherwise unremarkable e-mail to Jack Abramoff: “I now have an RNC blackberry which you can use to e-mail me at any time… No security issues like my WH email.” This, we suppose, is the vast right-wing cover-up scandal.

Democrats must produce more than one or two private-account e-mails before we worry about debasing the integrity of the historical record. We would have to hear about Republican National Committee computers in the White House, the partisan use of CIA files, or scissor-handed national security advisers. That was the kind of work Bill Clinton’s several consiglieres engaged in. None of it has been attributed to Bush aides. We’re not even talking here about Whitewater cover-ups or obstruction of justice in the Monica Lewinsky affair, but of how the Clinton White House systematically blurred the line between official business and partisan politics. As the Wall Street Journal notes, Clinton-era officials kept Democratic National Committee computers in the White House itself. But we don’t recall the outcry about that.

We would be more troubled if these Bush administration officials did not maintain separate e-mail addresses, phone lines and computers. That’s what the Hatch Act is all about. Everyone agrees on this point. No one should pay particular attention to the scandalmongers until they produce evidence of scandal. Of course, there’s the Catch-22: Democratic hatchetman Henry Waxman can now call for a partisan fishing expedition through Republican National Committee e-mails. When the committee protests, that, too, will be called “cover-up.”

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