The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ivanka Trump’s email use spurs bipartisan calls for investigation

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) vowed Nov. 20 to investigate White House adviser Ivanka Trump’s emails when he leads the House Oversight Committee in 2019. (Video: Reuters)

President Trump defended his daughter Ivanka’s use of a personal email account for government business Tuesday as senior Republicans and Democrats in Congress vowed to investigate her communications and whether they violated the law.

Trump dismissed comparisons of his daughter to Hillary Clinton, whom he criticized throughout the 2016 presidential campaign for use of a personal email server for her work as secretary of state in the Obama administration.

“They weren’t classified like Hillary Clinton. They weren’t deleted like Hillary Clinton, who deleted 33,000. She wasn’t doing anything to hide her emails. I looked at it just very briefly today and the presidential records — they’re all in presidential records. There was no hiding,” Trump told reporters at the White House as he departed for Florida.

Here's why the use of private email accounts and private email servers can be problematic for a president's administration. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“There was no server in the basement like Hillary Clinton had,” he continued, “you were talking about a whole different, you’re talking about fake news. So what Ivanka did, it’s all in the presidential records. Everything is there.”

But comparisons between Ivanka Trump and Clinton were nonetheless obvious as House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced their intention to investigate, in letters to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and acting White House counsel Emmet Flood. They demanded a full account of exactly how many emails Trump sent and received, on what subjects, and whether she had preserved them in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.

They also asked whether Trump had received training related to the use of private emails — a sign that GOP leaders do not accept her explanation that she was unfamiliar with the rules prohibiting the use of a personal account.

It is not the first time that the panels have probed the question of whether staffers in the Trump White House used personal email accounts. Both Gowdy and Johnson’s panels grilled administration officials last year about reports that President Trump’s aides, including his daughter, were using personal accounts for official communications. Their new letters to the administration were released amid a furor from congressional Democrats, who vowed to take up the investigation next year — but stir less partisan rancor than the GOP did in its probe of Clinton.

“My goal is to prevent this from happening again — not to turn this into a spectacle the way Republicans went after Hillary Clinton,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said.

Questioned on whether he would allow congressional Democrats to interview her, President Trump answered: “Ivanka can take care of herself.”

Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of emails last year to White House aides, Cabinet officials and her assistants using a personal account, many of them in violation of federal records rules, according to people familiar with a White House examination of her correspondence.

She first used her personal email to contact Cabinet officials in early 2017, before she joined the White House as an unpaid senior adviser, according to emails obtained by American Oversight and first reported by Newsweek.

Ivanka Trump used a personal email account to send hundreds of emails about government business last year

American Oversight, the liberal watchdog group whose records requests led to the discovery regarding Ivanka Trump’s use of her personal email, said in a letter to lawmakers Tuesday that “the parallels between Ms. Trump’s conduct and that of Secretary Clinton are inescapable.”

House Republicans created a special committee to investigate the deadly 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and it was that panel that uncovered Clinton’s use of a personal email server for government business.

Republicans excoriated Clinton during her 2016 bid for president, prompting chants of “lock her up” at Trump’s rallies and an FBI investigation. The FBI probe found that she had been “extremely careless” but that there was no intention to violate laws on handling classified information.

The White House has been bracing for the new revelation to spur a deeper investigation next year by House Democrats of Ivanka Trump’s correspondence in her personal, official and business life.

Behind the scenes, White House officials urged supporters and allies to defend Ivanka Trump and make the case publicly that her personal email use was different from that of Clinton, according to two people familiar with the administration’s talking points.

The core of their argument: the volume of private emails she sent was much smaller, the messages did not contain classified material, and she did not delete them, they said. The White House is urging surrogates to make the case that it would be Democratic overreach to investigate her, the people added.

A few Trump allies had spoken out on her behalf by Tuesday afternoon, including Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who tweeted: “There are over 30,000 BleachBit reasons why the Hillary Clinton email scandal isn’t even close to the Ivanka email issue.”

Democrats are mostly holding their tongues on Ivanka Trump’s emails

In the wake of the news, several lawmakers ridiculed President Trump for having attacked Clinton over her email use.

“Cue the chant?” tweeted Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), in a nod to Trump supporters’ frequent cries of “Lock her up!” at the president’s rallies.

Some former Trump White House officials also chastised Ivanka Trump over the matter.

“It’s hypocritical, and, certainly, it looks bad. And I’m sure the media will have a field day with it today,” Marc Short, who served as President Trump’s legislative affairs director, said on CNN.

Anthony Scaramucci, who served as White House communications director for 11 days last year, told CNN that the error was so glaring that Ivanka Trump herself would have to acknowledge it if asked.

“Certainly, I think it’s hypocritical,” he said. “I think even Ivanka, if she was interviewed about it, she’d have to say that it was a mistake. You can’t do that in that position.”