The ties that bind - Marc Racicot learns he’s got mail

Montana’s former governor, Marc Racicot, appears to be in some hot water in Washington, D.C., over activities that took place during his tenure as chair of the Bush-Cheney ’04 presidential campaign. And once again, the scurrilous ties that bind lead to Jack Abramoff, secret White House e-mails, Presidential Adviser Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee (RNC) in what seems to have been a deliberate attempt to skirt laws concerning records of presidential activities. Although he’s been contacted by a number of top-flight news organizations for comment, so far it appears Racicot has gone to ground and refuses to talk.

Montanans will recall that Racicot was last in the headlines of political scandal during the fall of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. In that episode, $190,000 in corporate contributions appeared to have been laundered through the Republican National Committee, which Racicot chaired, and then sent back to the Texas candidate two days later when Racicot himself was attending fundraisers there. The alleged transaction, according to the Texas grand jury investigating the matter, was an attempt to circumvent the state’s prohibition on corporate contributions to state election campaigns. In the end, DeLay was forced to resign his House leadership position after the indictments and eventually gave up his Congressional seat.

The latest brouhaha began during the investigation of the firing of federal attorneys by both the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight Committee and has a reputation as a dogged investigator, sent a letter last week to Racicot, now serving as president of the American Insurance Association.

The Waxman letter to Racicot (which may be read in its entirety at http://www.oversight.house.gov/Documents/20070326110723-80643.pdf), begins rather ominously: “I am writing about e-mail records in the possession of the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign. Congressional investigations have revealed that White House officials have used nongovernmental e-mail accounts, including those maintained by the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign, to conduct official White House business. The Committee has questions about who has access to these e-mail records and how the campaign protects them from destruction or tampering. The Committee also directs you to preserve all such records because of their potential relevance to congressional investigations.”

According to Rep. Waxman: “Such e-mails written in the conduct of White House business would appear to be governmental records subject to preservation and eventual public disclosure. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 establishes that the records of a president, his immediate staff, and certain units of the Executive Office of the President belong to the United States, not to the individual president or his staff. The Act further states that the president must ‘take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflect the performance of his constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties are adequately documented and that such records are maintained as Presidential records pursuant to the requirements of this section and other provisions of law.’”

The investigation of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, says Waxman, found “many of the e-mail exchanges between Jack Abramoff and White House officials were conducted via nongovernmental e-mail accounts” and “that in multiple instances, Susan Ralston, Karl Rove’s Executive Assistant, exchanged e-mails with Jack Abramoff regarding official government business while using accounts maintained by the Republican National Committee and the Bush Cheney ’04 campaign…The e-mail exchanges reviewed by the Committee provide evidence that in some instances, White House officials were using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.”

Waxman’s letter then relates an e-mail that was received by Rove’s executive assistant Ralston requesting the White House quash a pending move by the Department of Interior to approve an American Indian gaming compact because “the tribe is anathema to all our supporters.” When the communication inadvertently showed up on the White House e-mail system, Abramoff wrote: “Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her RNC pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system.”

According to Waxman, who cites a recent National Journal article, “one former White House official said that Karl Rove uses his RNC account for ‘about 95 percent’ of his e-mail. The official also said the RNC purges all its e-mails on a regular basis, but had chosen ‘to preserve Mr. Rove’s e-mails.’”

In closing, Waxman writes that the Oversight Committee wants to meet with Racicot this week to answer five specific questions: Who has access to the e-mail accounts maintained by the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign? What policies, guidance and procedures govern the use and preservation of e-mail accounts maintained by the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign that have been used by White House officials? What agreements, if any, did the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign enter into with the White House, the National Archives or other government agencies regarding the e-mail accounts maintained by the campaign that have been used by White House officials? What steps have been taken to preserve those e-mail accounts? And what assurance can the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign provide the Committee that no e-mails involving official White House business have been destroyed or altered?

In a 2001 letter announcing Racicot’s appointment as head of the Republican National Committee, George Bush wrote: “I’ve asked my friend Marc Racicot, the former Governor of Montana, to become the Chairman of the RNC... Marc has got a history of success.” Apparently President Bush didn’t bother to check out the condition in which Racicot left Montana or he’d have known about the destruction of the state’s once-great water quality laws, shifting the tax burden from corporations onto citizens, defunding public education, and, of course, the disaster of deregulation.

How this latest business will turn out is anyone’s guess at this point, but having Rep. Waxman hot on his trail is anything but good news for Racicot. Perhaps, just perhaps, our former governor’s “history of success” in D.C. may finally catch up with him.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent.
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