Take Note: E-Mails Leave Paper Trails

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others have been tripped up by the e-mail they left behind. Communicating electronically is a convenience, but it can also be a menace to politicians.


Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says that elected officials should take an important lesson from the scandals surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: E-mails leave paper trails.

DANIEL SCHORR: On March 13th, with the firing of eight U.S. attorneys becoming an issue, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters: I was not involved in sending any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.

To the intense embarrassment of Gonzales and the White House, that was wrong. Twice in the preceding months, Gonzales had been informed that it was going to happen. The second time, he approved the plan for carrying out the executions. Had there been a leak? Not exactly. The information was contained in e-mail messages sent to the Judiciary Committee amid 3,000 pages of requested material.

Communicating electronically is a convenience; it can also be a menace, as some have learned to their dismay. Former Representative Mark Foley was done in when some of his sex-laden instant messages to teenage House pages got out. Super lobbyist Jack Abramoff, on trial for corruption, was damaged by e-mails documenting his efforts to acquire government properties.

Recently, it was disclosed that some White House aides have taken to conducting their business using external e-mail accounts. That keeps the traffic out of the White House e-mail system. That means they won't be automatically archived. It also won't be included when White House files are subpoenaed by the FBI or by congressional investigators.

Congress is already wise to these tactics. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has already warned Republican National Committee members not to destroy any of the e-mail sent from these accounts.

But can e-mail from these private files be subpoenaed, too? Think of it this way: in a world of wiretapping and surveillance, why should e-mail be exempt?

This is Daniel Schorr.

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