Initially, it looks bad:
Countless e-mails to and from many key White House staffers have been deleted -- lost to history and placed out of reach of congressional subpoenas -- due to a brazen violation of internal White House policy that was allowed to continue for more than six years, the White House acknowledged yesterday.
So what was the problem?
In an afternoon conference call with reporters, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel spread the blame all around. "White House policy did not give clear enough guidance," he said. "The oversight of that wasn't aggressive enough." And individual White House staffers "did not do a good enough job of following existing preservation policy -- or seeking guidance."
Said Stanzel: "I guess the bottom line is that our policy at the White House was not clear enough for employees."
Sure, that can happen. Or can it?
But when I asked Stanzel to read out loud the White House e-mail policy, it seemed clear enough to me: "Federal law requires the preservation of electronic communications sent or received by White House staff," says the handbook that all staffers are given and expected to read and comply with.
"As a result, personnel working on behalf of the EOP [Executive Office of the President] are expected to only use government-provided e-mail services for all official communication."
The handbook further explains: "The official EOP e-mail system is designed to automatically comply with records management requirements."
And if that wasn't clear enough, the handbook notes -- as was the case in the Clinton administration -- that "commercial or free e-mail sites and chat rooms are blocked from the EOP network to help staff members ensure compliance and to prevent the circumvention of the records management requirements."
Sure, that might seem clear to you and me. But these are members of the GOP we're talking about. If I were them, I might seriously consider a legal defense along the lines of "I didn't know any better. I'm a Republican. so I'm retarded."
With the right kind of jury, you just never know.