Karen Hughes was a paid consultant for the Republican National Committee (RNC) at the time she returned to Washington in January 2003 to help draft the controversial State of the Union address. Both she and fellow RNC consultant Mary Matalin were principal members of the strategic White House Iraq Group. Both consultants received subpoenas in the CIA leak investigation. The involvement of the RNC in the employment
arrangements raises a few significant questions.
The Transition From the White House to the RNC
Hughes officially left the White House in July 2002 to spend more time with her family. Matalin left Vice President Cheney's office in December 2002 for the same stated reason. Matalin began working for the RNC the following month. I was unable to determine the precise month in 2002 that Hughes began receiving payments from the RNC. However, the April 6, 2003, Houston Chronicle indicated that Hughes' RNC contract was worth $15,000 per month -- the equivalent of an $180,000 annual salary.
(1) Security Clearance. I would presume that drafting the State of the Union and working as a principal member of the White House Iraq Group would involve access to highly classified information. What provisions exist to provide high level security clearance to individuals who are not working for any branch of the government and instead are working as consultants for a political party?
(2) Accountablity & Oversight. It appears that these two RNC consultants were directly involved in presenting official White House positions. Is it appropriate for a non-government employee to function as an official spokesperson for the White House? Who is accountable for any statements made by such an individual? Is Congress or any other government body authorized to provide oversight in this situation?
(3) Reasons for Arrangement. Why did the White House set up these special arrangements through the RNC? I would assume the President has some budget flexibility and may authorize staff positions or consulting contracts at his discretion.
(4) Precedents. Are there any precedents in prior administrations where political parties have financed what appear to be White House staff positions?
(5) CIA Leak. In the event that Hughes or Matalin are found to have been involved in the CIA leak, what impact, if any, would their independent contractor status have on the associated culpability of the White House or Republican National Committee?
The State of the Union
The July 18, 2003, Knight Ridder Tribune News Service cited the major role performed by Karen Hughes in the crafting of the speech:
It was prepared under the broad direction of White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett, with considerable help from Karen Hughes, the former presidential counselor who still advises the president as a consultant to the Republican National Committee.
The April 6, 2003, Houston Chronicle quantified the amount of time Hughes contributed to the project:
In January alone, she was away for 17 days, more than half the month. She spent eight days in Washington, advising Bush and his speechwriters on the president's State of the Union address.