When the administration slapped the wrist of one of its top technology officials this spring for violating Barack Obama’s ethics pledge, a spokesman claimed the breaches were isolated incidents.
But a Daily Caller investigation reveals a cavalier attitude at the Obama White House toward longstanding safeguards designed to prevent abuses of the Presidential Records Act and other laws – including acts that carry serious legal implications.
Two sources say a top White House technology official, Chief Information Officer Brook Colangelo, routinely asked technology vendors for special deals based on his position as a public official.
“I heard the CIO talking to various technology vendors, saying … like, ‘You should give this to us for free because we’re the White House.’ And he actually said that to people,” one source said. A second source said Colangelo continued the practice even after having been confronted about its appropriateness.
Asking for discounts as a White House political official violates ethical rules and potentially federal law, experts say.
“You’re asking me a hypothetical because I’m not endorsing any facts here,” said Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, but “I can’t imagine a circumstance where a public official based on the fact that the person is a public official who asks a commercial business for a discount, I can’t imagine how that’s ethical under ethical rules in the White House that I know of, and it might even be worse.”
A White House official responded to Daily Caller questions on the matter by saying, “The Office of Administration … does not ask for special treatment or deals from vendors.”
Much of the information obtained by The Daily Caller comes from the first few months of the administration, when the technologically savvy culture of the Obama campaign collided with the restrictive rules of the White House.
Then, Obama officials complained openly about their frustration with what they called archaic technology in the White House. But many of the constraints — personal e-mail websites like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail are blocked from access, for instance – were put in place during past administrations to follow federal law.
Specifically, the Presidential Records Act requires the White House to archive most written communications. The intent of the law, enacted in the wake of the Nixon Watergate scandal, was two-fold: to preserve the documents for historians and record potential ethical and legal violations.
E-mails sent from official White House accounts are preserved. But those sent from a personal account would bypass the system – in violation of the law, depending on the circumstances.
A source who worked in the White House for about the first six months of the administration said Obama’s new political appointees disdained safeguards aimed to ensure compliance with the law.
“A lot of new people came in [and] they were very hostile towards the career employees. Basically, you know, whenever they made a technical decision, maybe something related to some of the safeguards we had in place for presidential records, as an example, well somebody who was career might say, ‘This is sort of how we’ve been doing things,’ and the political would say, ‘Well, new game in town,’ sort of thing,” the source said.