September 25, 2017 at 6:27 PM
The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee and its top Democrat asked the Trump administration Monday for more information about the use of personal email accounts by senior officials — a day after it was revealed that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, acknowledged using such an account for official business.
The letters, sent from Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to White House counsel Don McGahn and the leaders of two dozen federal departments and agencies, demand answers to inquiries about the use of nonofficial email and other messaging accounts to conduct official business. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, also joined the request.
The letters represent some of the most aggressive oversight of the Trump administration from Gowdy, who took over the reins of the Oversight Committee in June after Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) announced plans to resign his congressional seat. They come after the Republicans on the committee repeatedly questioned Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of private email, hosted on a personal server, during her tenure as secretary of state.
Kushner used his personal account to correspond dozens of times with White House colleagues, according to a statement from his attorney, Abbe Lowell. The emails, Lowell said, were forwarded to Kushner’s official White House address and thus preserved in accordance with government policies. But the report has created an uncomfortable picture for Trump, who railed against Clinton’s use of private email throughout the campaign, calling at times for her to be jailed, and has continued to criticize her during his presidency.
The letters signed Monday by Gowdy and Cummings cite a Sunday report by Politico, which first reported Kushner’s use of the private account. They ask the addressees to share the names of any “non-career official” who has used a personal account to conduct official business or used an “alias” account — that is, an official account that does not use the person’s actual name — to do so. They also request the names of any officials who use ” text messages, phone-based message applications, or encryption software” to do their jobs.
The requests, they explain, are necessary to examine whether the Trump administration is adhering to federal laws pertaining to records retention. The Federal Records Act, for one, requires government officials and agencies to create systems and practices so that they preserve all records, memos, correspondence and other documents that detail their government work.
The use of personal email to conduct government business potentially puts those messages beyond the reach of congressional investigators and the media requesting public information. Private accounts can also open security risks if the email service used is lax on password security or doesn’t regularly patch its software — weaknesses that hackers can exploit to gain access.
While Kushner’s use of a personal account invited comparisons to Clinton’s behavior, there are key differences. Kushner appears not to have used a private server as Clinton did, but rather used a commercially available email service, and there is no evidence Kushner discussed classified information on his personal account, as Clinton was found to have done.
Jack Gillum contributed to this report.