Magazine article Newsweek

The George W. Bush White House 'Lost' 22 Million Emails; the Outrage and Press Coverage Was Nothing Compared with That Surrounding Hillary Clinton's Emails

Magazine article Newsweek

The George W. Bush White House 'Lost' 22 Million Emails; the Outrage and Press Coverage Was Nothing Compared with That Surrounding Hillary Clinton's Emails

Article excerpt

Byline: Nina Burleigh

For 18 months, Republican strategists, political pundits, reporters and Americans who follow them have been pursuing Hillary Clinton's personal email habits, and no evidence of a crime has been found. But now they at least have the skills and interest to focus on a much larger and deeper email conspiracy, one involving war, lies, a private server run by the Republican Party and contempt of Congress citations--all of it still unsolved and unpunished.

Clinton's email habits look positively transparent when compared with the subpoena-dodging, email-hiding, private-server-using George W. Bush administration. 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.

Like Clinton, the Bush White House used a private email server--its was owned by the Republican National Committee. And the Bush administration failed to store its emails, as required by law, and then refused to comply with a congressional subpoena seeking some of those emails. "It's about as amazing a double standard as you can get," says Eric Boehlert, who works with the pro-Clinton group Media Matters. "If you look at the Bush emails, he was a sitting president, and 95 percent of his chief advisers' emails were on a private email system set up by the RNC. Imagine if for the last year and a half we had been talking about Hillary Clinton's emails set up on a private DNC server?"

Most troubling, researchers found a suspicious pattern in the White House email system blackouts, including periods when there were no emails available from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. "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 was discussion of whether to invade Iraq--beggared the imagination," says Thomas Blanton, director of the Washington-based National Security Archive. The NSA (not to be confused with the National Security Agency, the federal surveillance organization) is a nonprofit devoted to obtaining and declassifying national security documents and is one of the key players in the effort to recover the supposedly lost Bush White House emails.

The media paid some attention to the Bush email chicanery but spent considerably less ink and airtime than has been devoted to Clinton's digital communications in the past 18 months. According to the Boston social media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon, which ran a study for Newsweek, there have been 560,397 articles mentioning Clinton's emails between March 2015 and September 1, 2016.

In 1978, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA), which mandated that all presidential and vice presidential records created after January 20, 1981, be preserved and that the public, not the president, owned the records. The following year, the Reagan administration installed the White House's rudimentary first email system.

Despite the PRA, neither the Reagan nor the George H.W. Bush administration maintained email records, even as the number of White House emails began growing exponentially. (The Bush administration would produce around 200 million.) In 1989, a federal lawsuit to force the White House to comply with the PRA was filed by several groups, including the National Security Archive, which at the time was mostly interested in unearthing the secret history of the Cold War. The suit sparked a last-minute court order, issued in the waning hours of the first Bush presidency, that prevented 6,000 White House email backup tapes from being erased. …

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