For over two years now, Hillary Clinton‘s personal email habits have been scrutinized by Republicans and conservative media across the political spectrum. However, a report from Newsweek, reveals 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.
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.
“Clinton’s email habits look positively transparent when compared with the subpoena-dodging, email-hiding, private-server-using George W. Bush administration,” Newsweek writes.
“Between 2003 and 2009, the Bush White House “lost” 22 million emails. This correspondence included millions of emails written during the darkest period in America’s recent history, when the Bush administration was ginning up support for what turned out to be a disastrous war in Iraq with false claims that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and, later, when it was firing U.S. attorneys for political reasons.”
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 were discussions 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.
However, 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.
In court in May 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.
The Bush White House 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 administration 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.
The National Archives now has 220 million emails from the Bush White House, and there is a long backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests already, according to Newsweek. But not all of the emails will be available to the public until 2021, when the presidential security restrictions expire.
During a congressional hearing 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.”
A source involved with the stymied congressional investigation recalled the period as “an intense time,” but the Obama administration didn’t encourage any follow-up, devoting its political capital to dealing with the crashing economy rather than investigating the murky doings that took place under the Bush Administration.
“Since then, no major media outlet has devoted significant—or, really, any—resources to obtaining the emails, or to finding out what was in them, or what, exactly, the Bush administration was hiding,” Newsweek concluded.