The White House has acknowledged that many years' worth of official email--which is required by law to be preserved--has been "lost." The reason it was lost is because many White House staffers, most notably Karl Rove, have conducted much of their official business over the years on private RNC-sponsored email accounts that routinely purged old email. The White House has attempted to mitigate its culpability for this blatant violation of the Presidential Records Act by arguing that it was the byproduct of a good faith effort to comply with another law, the Hatch Act, which prohibits conducting certain partisan political activity on government time. As White House spokesperson Dana Perino put it:
What I know -- I checked into this -- is that certain White House officials and staff members who have responsibilities that straddle both worlds, that have responsibilities in communication, regular interface with political organizations, do have a separate email account for those political communications. That is entirely appropriate, especially when you think of it in this case, that the practice is in place and followed precisely to avoid any inadvertent violations of what is called the Hatch Act. And so there are some members of the administration that do straddle both worlds. And so under an abundance of caution so that they don't violate the Hatch Act, they have these separate emails.
The goal here is to portray these White House staffers as honest civil servants trying their best to comply with two contradictory sets of legal mandates. And the White House has actually been pretty successful at selling this line, as evidenced by this paragraph from a recent New York Times story:
At issue is how the White House complies with two seemingly competing laws. One is the 1978 Presidential Records Act, which requires the administration to ensure that its decisions and deliberations are “adequately documented” and that records flowing out of those decisions are preserved. The other is the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from engaging in political business on government time.
But here's the thing. It's just not true. The Hatch Act and the Presidential Records Act are not "competing" laws. It's remarkably easy to comply with both. All you have to do is preserve your official communications.
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