House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) today pressed the White House and a former top Obama administration official to clarify contradicting statements regarding the use of personal email accounts for official business. Responding to the committee's recent report that revealed Obama administration officials used personal email accounts to conduct administration business, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged that Obama administration officials do in fact use their personal accounts, but he suggested that those individuals take necessary actions to comply with the Presidential Records Act. However, Carney's new explanation conflicts with previous statements that all "work is conducted on work email accounts." Moreover, the White House has failed to provide any evidence demonstrating these efforts to ensure compliance with record-keeping requirements and the administration's own policies, despite past requests from the committee for such assurances.
In a letter to the White House Counsel, the members wrote, "Last Thursday, the Honorable Henry Waxman, the Democratic Ranking Member of this Committee, stated that '[t]he Presidential Records Act was enacted to ensure that White House records are preserved for history and are owned by the American people . . . Everyone who is covered by the law should follow it, regardless of which party controls the White House.' We strongly agree with Mr. Waxman's statement and are sending you this letter in yet another attempt to determine whether the White House is, indeed, meeting its legal obligations under the PRA.
"While the White House now claims, in contradiction to its earlier statements, that White House employees may have been instructed to forward emails from their personal accounts to their official White House accounts if they involved official government business, a question remains as to whether these employees followed the White House policy. A failure to do so could constitute a violation of the PRA. A further and more important question also remains: how widespread is the practice of White House officials using personal email accounts to conduct official White House business?"
A similar letter was sent to Jim Messina, formerly the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, whose negotiations regarding development and passage of the president's health care law law -- in some cases conducted using a personal email account -- were uncovered as part of a committee investigation.
The members gave the administration until August 16, 2012, to substantiate their claims by providing a detailed account of the White House's policy and procedures used to comply with the Presidential Records Act and copies of the specific emails identified by the committee with date and time stamps demonstrating when they were copied or forwarded into the official White House email system. The members also seek information and documentation on any other White House personnel who conducted official business on personal email accounts, along with copies of such emails as inserted into the official email system for record preservation purposes.