April 12, 2007
Leah Yoon, NPR




April 12, 2007; Washington, DC - Just after he finished an interview with Alex Chadwick airing today on NPR News' Day to Day, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) learned the White House said that many of the emails requested by Waxman's House committee had gone missing. Waxman, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, returned to the NPR West studio to address the controversy. His committee is investigating whether White House officials used non-White House email accounts for official business. "If they deleted them after they received this letter, it would be a criminal action of obstruction of justice, obstructing a congressional investigation," Waxman told Day to Day.

Transcribed excerpts of the interview are below. All excerpts must be credited to NPR News' Day to Day. Any television use of excerpts must have NPR logo on-screen identifying the soundbyte. Audio of the interview will be available at www.npr.org

With 1.7 million listeners Day to Day, NPR's fastest-growing new program, is a weekday, one-hour newsmagazine produced at NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif., in collaboration with Slate.com and hosted by Alex Chadwick and Madeleine Brand. For stations and broadcast times, visit www.NPR.org/stations


CHADWICK: The committee that Ari (ph) just mentioned, the one that is trying to get the e-mails is chaired by a congressman from California who has held office for many years. He was first elected in that democratic sweep after the President Nixon scandals in the '70s. His name is Henry Waxman, and he was here at NPR West yesterday explaining his e-mail request. Now, this began because the Republican National Committee gave laptops to about two-dozen top administration figures. These are people like Mr. Bush's political and policy advisor, Karl Rove.

ALEX COHEN: Get that distinction? Political and policy advisor.

CHADWICK: Right. The two do get mixed up in every administration, politics and policy. But by law, people have to understand that wavy line between them, and that is why, the Republicans say, they gave these laptops to administration leaders, so that they would use Republican channels for political work.

And here is where it gets tricky: As Congressman Waxman was saying yesterday, they could use private channels to hide messages that they didn't want public, but which the public has a right to know.

REPRESENTATIVE HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA): What we did is simply sent a letter to make sure that nothing is destroyed. We didn't ask for the e-mails, but they are on notice that Congress is doing an investigation, is interested in this topic, and that they should preserve those accounts.

CHADWICK: I don't know how many e-mails there may be, the congressman said; I don't know what may be in them; I just want them on notice.

So, well, we finished talking, he was leaving, and a new story crossed on the Associated Press. The White House had just issued a statement about these e-mails, and it said they were missing. These e-mails from the top political types: gone. We ran out to the parking lot, and we got Congressman Waxman, and he came back to the studio. He sat a microphone and read what the AP reported. He digested it, like a bad lunch, and then we started the interview again.

REP. WAXMAN: We wrote to the White House and to the Republican National Committee telling that, pursuant to investigations, we wanted them to make sure that those e-mails were not deleted. If they deleted them after they received this letter, it would be a criminal action of obstruction of justice, obstructing a congressional investigation.

I don't know enough about the information as to when these e-mails were deleted, but a number of committees in the Congress are trying to find out whether people in the White House were communicating with each other and outside political people from - Republicans to figure whether they should fire U.S. attorneys, whether they should do special favors for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and other activities which would be in violation of the law.

The law requires that government e-mails be used for government purposes; Republican or partisan e-mails for partisan purposes. But the decision of a U.S. attorney staying in his or her job, or being targeted for firing because they were investigating Democrats, or they were investigating Republicans, if that is communicated over Republican National Committee e-mails, that just puts this whole thing in a very different light; it becomes clearly politicized process. And too much of what we are seeing in government has been politicized by this administration. We need to find out the facts.

CHADWICK: The facts could be that, indeed, these e-mails have gone missing somehow.

REP. WAXMAN: I have just been informed of this possibility, but I have also heard that when people delete e-mails, there is still a way to retrieve them. We'll have to see whether that is possible. It just is so reminiscent of the Nixon days, when there were requests for information, and suddenly, for example, Nixon's conversations that were taped - suddenly big gaps appeared in the tape that people couldn't explain. They were told it was accidentally deleted. Well, we have got to find out more about this. Those who are investigating the U.S. attorneys issue are going to want to get answers to how this happened, and those of us who are looking at other issues as well, such as the abuse of public office for political purposes in a number of different areas, are going to want to get answers as well.

CHADWICK: You and I spoke a little earlier. In that conversation, you said that, in all of your years of Congress - and you have been in charge of committees, and then you have been in the minority party for some of that time as well - but in all of your time in Congress, you have never issued a subpoena.

REP. WAXMAN: That is correct.

CHADWICK: You are now the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Does reading this news from the White House - maybe you're about to issue your first subpoena.

REP. WAXMAN: Well, that could well be. Subpoenas are to be used, in my view, as a matter of last resort. When the committee chairman makes a request for documents or information from the executive branch, we make those requests because we are entitled to get that information, and they have an obligation to provide it to us. This is not the government of the people in power who want to operate in secrecy; government has to be open and transparent and accountable, and unless we get the information we request, they should well know that a subpoena could be served on them, and further pursuance of that subpoena could follow.

CHADWICK: What are you going to do with this information now?

REP. WAXMAN: I'm going to review it with some of my colleagues, some of the chairmen of the committees that are doing other investigations, and talk to the people in the White House and find out what they have to say about it.

CHADWICK: Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, thank you for speaking with us on "Day to Day."

REP. WAXMAN: You're very welcome.

CHADWICK: We checked in with the R-N-C this morning. Press Secretary Tracey Schmitt says representatives of the R-N-C will be meeting with House Committee staffers about the missing e-mails today.