Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, revealed groundbreaking new information his committee obtained on Thursday: high-ranking White House officials have been using personal email and chat accounts to conduct government business, according to reports from CNN and The New York Times.
Cummings submitted a letter Thursday to the White House alleging that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump used personal email accounts and WhatsApp, a popular, publicly available messaging app, to “communicate with foreign leaders” and conduct official White House business. Their use of private email accounts and WhatsApp, which is unencrypted, may have violated federal records laws, per The New York Times.
Cummings, a Democrat representative from Maryland, revealed that he obtained the information through Abbe D. Lowell, a lawyer for President Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump, and Kushner. Lowell specifically mentioned that the WhatsApp messages Kushner sent involved foreign contacts and that Ivanka Trump would “not preserve” certain emails sent to her personal accounts if she didn’t reply to them.
Lowell did not reveal whether or not Kushner and Trump sent classified information over WhatsApp, responding “that’s above my paygrade,” and defended that Kushner (his client) did not violate federal records laws because he sent screenshots of his messages to his official White House communication accounts or the National Security Council. Cummings stated that it would be a “major security breach” if Kushner or Trump did disclose any classified information through the unsecured channels.
The House Oversight Committee said it had obtained evidence that White House officials, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, used personal email accounts and messaging apps to conduct official business https://t.co/lHxFIq7qfS
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) March 21, 2019
Cummings also mentioned in his letter that Lowell told him that Ivanka Trump “continues to receive emails relating to official business on her personal email account and that she does not forward emails received through her personal account unless she responds (to) the email, even if the subject matter of the email relates to her official duties.”
If found to be true, Trump would be in violation of the Presidential Records Act, which forbids White House officials to conduct government business through private accounts unless they forward any and all communications to official accounts within 20 days.
Lowell has responded to Cummings’ letter, stating that he “never” indicated that Kushner’s communications were with foreign “leaders” or “officials,” per CNN. He also insisted that Kushner “follows the protocols” (including classified information protocols), and that Ivanka Trump now does the same.
The House Oversight Committee has been investigating the use of private communication channels within the White House since 2017. Cummings expressed his frustration with the White House’s lack of cooperation in his letter.
“The White House’s failure to provide documents and information is obstructing the Committee’s investigation into allegations of violations of federal records laws by White House officials. The Committee requests that you confirm by March 28, 2019, whether you intend to comply voluntarily with its request or whether the committee should consider alternative means to obtain the information it needs to conduct its investigation.”
The allegations are shocking and deeply ironic, to say the least. President Trump and other prominent Republicans attacked Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016 campaign for her alleged use of a private email server to conduct State Department business while she was Secretary of State. Now, advisors in the President’s own inner circle have been accused of the same behavior.