House Republican demands details on Trump aides’ use of private email
A top House Republican investigator on Monday demanded details on any senior aides to President Donald Trump who have used private email addresses or encrypted software for government business, following a POLITICO report that Jared Kushner used a personal address.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House oversight committee, along with his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, called for the Trump White House to disclose by Oct. 9 the names of any top administration officials who use a private email address for government work and to identify any accounts and cell phone numbers that may have been used to transmit encrypted messages.
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“With numerous public revelations of senior executive branch employees deliberately trying to circumvent these laws by using personal, private, or alias email addresses to conduct official government business, the Committee has aimed to use its oversight and investigative resources to prevent and deter misuse of private forms of written communication,” Gowdy and Cummings wrote in a letter to White House counsel Don McGahn.
The request echoed a similar inquiry the committee made in March, when it was chaired by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, who has since left Congress. At the time, a top administration official, Marc Short, responded that “there are no senior officials covered by the [Presidential Records Act] with multiple accounts.”
But POLITICO reported on Sunday that Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has traded work-related emails using a private domain. His attorney insisted that fewer than 100 relevant emails were exchange on the server from January through August.
The request for details on any encrypted communications is a new avenue for the committee. POLITICO reported in February that administration lawyers and then-press secretary Sean Spicer admonished staff members that using encrypted messaging apps like Confide or Signal would be a violation of the Presidential Records Act.
The letter Monday shows how an issue Republicans used against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign has come back to haunt them. Congressional Republicans grilled Clinton for using a personal email server while leading the State Department, investigating well into the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump also suggested she be criminally charged, though the FBI found no criminal wrongdoing.
House Democratic investigators earlier Monday said they intended to probe Kushner’s use of a private email address, a development that threatens to escalate the Russia-related controversies already surrounding President Donald Trump’s son in-law.
Cummings sent a separate letter to Kushner, a White House senior adviser, asking him to preserve all his personal emails. The Maryland Democrat also suggested he will eventually request all copies of work correspondence that passed through Kushner’s personal account.
“Before requesting copies or calling for the public release of all official emails you sent or received on your personal email account, I first request that you preserve all official records and copies of records in your custody or control and that you provide the information requested below,” Cummings wrote. “Your actions in response to the preservation request and the information you provide in response to this letter will help determine the next steps in this investigation.”
Asked if lawmakers should conduct oversight of Kushner’s emails, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the matter could fall under the jurisdiction of Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Trump’s ties to Russia.
“I know that Mr. Mueller is in the middle of a very intensive investigation, and so I have very little doubt that that will be thoroughly looked at,” McCain said.
POLITICO reported Sunday that Kushner and his wife, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, created a private family domain and that Kushner had been using personal email to communicate with top White House officials in early 2017. Kushner’s attorney confirmed the report, suggesting the messages totaled fewer than 100 from January through August.
Democrats, however, are seeking more information about their content — and emphasizing that Republicans had previously demanded the content of Clinton’s personal emails to attempt to determine whether she mishandled classified information.
The oversight committee has jurisdiction over record-keeping laws, which require all work correspondence to be completed on government accounts subject to Freedom of Information Act document requests.
Cummings’ letter highlights Republicans’ actions surrounding Clinton, seeking to pressure them into joining his inquiry or risk looking hypocritical. Cummings quotes Gowdy, in a March 19, 2015 letter involving the Clinton probe, arguing that the public “has a right to access public records” and “to certainty that no classified or sensitive information was placed at risk of compromise.”
One GOP investigative source in Congress told POLITICO that Republicans won’t be able to ignore the matter. They’re privately hoping Kushner’s attorney was correct that there were fewer than 100 emails sent and received on his personal account. That would suggest, the source argued, that Kushner’s email wasn’t created to dodge federal record keeping laws — particularly if he was simultaneously using a work account and forwarding those emails to his work email address.