Barack Obama is the first president to use e-mail, and now he has likely just become the first president to have his emails requested by investigators.
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee broadened its investigation into the failed solar company Solyndra, sending a letter to the White House counsel’s office requesting all West Wing communications regarding the decision to use taxpayer loan guarantees to back up the clean technology firm.
On Wednesday evening the committee clarified to CNBC that it is specifically asking for the White House to turn over any emails on the matter that were sent by the president himself.
A White House spokesman said he believes this is the first request by an investigative body for presidential emails.
The committee’s request calls for all West Wing documents, including emails, dating back to President Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009.
“Nearly eight months into our investigation, documents provided to the Committee last Friday confirm those closest to the President—top advisors like Valerie Jarrett, Larry Summers, and Ron Klain—had direct involvement in the Solyndra mess,” said Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL), explaining the expansion of the document request. “In addition to the cast of West Wing characters with access to the Oval Office, documents reveal a startlingly cozy relationship between wealthy donors and the President’s confidantes, especially in matters related to Solyndra.”
The White House declined on Wednesday to say whether it would comply with the request for the president’s email.
It’s not at all clear how Barack Obama uses email on a day-to-day basis—but after his election, he went out of the way to makes sure he would continue to have access to a Blackberry as president. That caused headaches for the Secret Service and the National Security Agency, which had to figure out how to keep the wireless device secure, especially since it could be carrying some of the nation’s deepest secrets.
Ultimately, government agencies were able to deliver a souped-up device for the president’s personal use.
At the time, then-White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that a “pretty small group of people” including senior staffers and personal friends would have the email address that went to the President’s device.
The White House assumed that all emails would be subject to the Presidential Records Act, meaning they would ultimately become public records for historians to study.
Neither President George W. Bush nor President Bill Clinton used e-mail while in the Oval office. Bush had used email before his election as president, but wrote to friends before he was sworn in that he would stop using it in office.
"Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace," Bush wrote.