Meta-wha...?

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by Amanda Witherell

The city attorney's office in San Francisco has strongly advised against releasing public documents that may contain metadata, (except when it serves their own purposes, like getting to the bottom of how the 49ers move to Santa Clara slipped right by them.)

The House of Representatives doesn't seem to have a problem with it though, as Rep. John Conyers, Jr. has asked for "all e-mail communications and all meta-data underlying them, stored on Republican National Committee (“RNC”) servers or otherwise in the possession, custody, or control of the RNC, that are related in any way to the recent firings by the Department of Justice of United States Attorneys, or to communications to the Congress about those terminations and related matters as set forth in this letter."

Read the full text of his letter to RNC Chairman Robert M. Duncan, after the jump...

April 12, 2007

Mr. Robert M. Duncan
Chairman
Republican National Committee
310 First Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003

Dear Mr. Duncan:

We are writing to request prompt delivery to the House Judiciary Committee of all e-mail communications and all meta-data underlying them, stored on Republican National Committee (“RNC”) servers or otherwise in the possession, custody, or control of the RNC, that are related in any way to the recent firings by the Department of Justice of United States Attorneys, or to communications to the Congress about those terminations and related matters as set forth in this letter.

Recent briefings to us by both the White House and the RNC, as well as press reports that White House staff may have not only misused RNC e-mail accounts for official government business, but also deleted or lost some e-mails that were required by law to be maintained, have raised serious concerns that cause us to write you with some urgency. These revelations follow a recent rash of resignations by high-level officials at the Department of Justice, including one who is asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and admissions of misstatements to Congress relating to the U.S. Attorney firings. These developments further heighten concerns regarding possible improper politicization of the Department of Justice, including possible interference with the impartial administration of the federal criminal justice system in matters involving alleged political corruption.

We have received numerous indications that White House e-mails routed through the RNC or its affiliated entities may be critical to our investigation. Among the documents released to us by the Justice Department is an e-mail exchange dated August 24, 2006, between J. Scott Jennings, the Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Political Affairs in the White House, and Kyle Sampson, the former Chief of Staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, that discussed how to replace H.E. “Bud” Cummins, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, with Tim Griffin in a manner that “would alleviate pressure/implication that Tim forced Bud out.” In another instance, Mr. Jennings sent an e-mail entitled “US ATTY” to Mr. Sampson asking for a list of all “vacant, or about to be vacant, U.S. Attorney slots.” In these e-mail exchanges, as well as other exchanges relating to U.S. Attorney matters, Mr. Jennings used a “gwb43.com” e-mail account maintained by the Republican National Committee.

We have also been advised that there may be RNC e-mail traffic relating to Republican Party concerns about the United States Attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, prior to his announcing, on the eve of the hotly contested 2006 gubernatorial election, that he was indicting an official in the incumbent Democratic governor’s administration. This prosecution was a topic of energetic discussion by Republicans in Wisconsin in the days leading up to the election, but was apparently so lacking in merit that the panel of judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewing the case, after a thirty-minute oral argument, immediately ordered, from the bench, that the official be released from prison and indicated it was reversing the conviction because it was unsupported by sufficient evidence.

In light of these concerns, we are therefore formally requesting that you provide promptly to our Committee all e-mail communications (including all meta-data relating to those communications) by any Government employee stored on or in any way retrievable from the RNC servers or in the possession, custody or control of the RNC, including any of its affiliated entities, that relate in any way to the recent termination of U.S. Attorneys, as well as all e-mails that relate in any way to any of the following related subjects: the performance of any U.S. Attorney; any consideration of whether to retain, dismiss, or seek the resignation of any U.S. Attorney; any candidate for possible appointment as a U.S. Attorney to replace anyone considered for termination; and any process for considering any of these subjects. Among the White House officials who we believe may have used RNC-affiliated e-mail accounts for these purposes are Karl Rove, J. Scott Jennings, Sara Taylor, and former White House officials Harriet Miers and Tim Griffin. But there may well be others, and we would ask that you provide them all.

We also request any other types of records of communications involving any current or former White House official involving any of these matters that are in the possession, custody, or control of the RNC or any of its affiliated entities. And in light of reports that some of the e-mails may have been deleted, we also request any information in the possession, custody, or control of the RNC or any of its affiliated entities, electronic or otherwise, including meta-data,

that might indicate when and for what periods any of those e-mails were deleted, or who may have been involved in deleting them. To the extent that you take the position that deleted e-mails cannot be retrieved, we must insist that, at the very least, technical experts working with us have the opportunity to question and work with RNC personnel to seek such recovery.

We understand that the White House has asked you for all e-mails by or to White House officials that are stored on or retrievable from RNC servers. Our request is narrower, specifically limited to e-mail and other records relating to the U.S. Attorney matters we are investigating, as described above. Particularly as these e-mails have already gone outside the confines of official White House communications channels, we would ask that, whatever you may be doing to respond to the White House request, you treat our request as separate and provide the materials we have requested directly to us, as quickly as possible, rather than diverting them into a White House review of the larger set of e-mails and thereby delaying our receipt of them. One of your counsel suggested at a recent briefing that you are considering the latter course. We would consider that to be an unjustified delay in responding to our request and potentially as an obstruction of our investigation, and we urge you not to follow that course.

We appreciate your cooperation in this matter and we look forward to your compliance as requested. Please provide us with the requisite information by close of business on April 20, 2007, by delivering a copy to us at the Judiciary Committee office, 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: 202-225-3951; fax: 202-225-7680). Please contact the Judiciary Committee office if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

___________________________________

John Conyers, Jr.

Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary

___________________________________

Linda T. Sánchez

Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law