Why Have So Many Trump Officials Used Private Messaging for Government Business?
President Trump built a not insignificant part of his political career on demonizing Hillary Clinton for using a private email server to conduct government business. On Thursday, Americans were provided with more evidence that the problem is rampant within Trump’s own administration.
In a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wrote that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump used private messaging services to conduct official White House business. Kushner, a senior adviser to the president, has used the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp to communicate with foreign leaders, while Ivanka Trump exchanged emails related to White House business on her private account without forwarding them to her official White House account so that they could be archived. The couple’s messaging habits could constitute a violation of the Presidential Records Act.
Trump denied having any knowledge of the communications while speaking to reporters Friday morning. “I know nothing about it,” he said. “I’ve never heard that. I’ve never heard about it.”
President Trump on Kushner WhatsApp report: "I know nothing about it. I've never heard that, I've never heard about it."
Kushner accused of using WhatsApp, personal email to conduct official White House business: report https://t.co/fFibUcX7XZ pic.twitter.com/7wbVFvHhHQ
— The Hill (@thehill) March 22, 2019
The revelations are the result of a December conversation the committee had with Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell. Lowell has since questioned some of the contentions made by Cummings in the letter, including that Lowell told the committee Kushner used WhatsApp to communicate with foreign “leaders” and “officials.” Lowell also said that his meeting with the committee in December was specifically in reference to communications before September 2017, and that Ivanka Trump now forwards all communications to official accounts.
Cummings and other Democrats on the Oversight Committee have long been interested in such records violations by Trump administration staff. For just as long, their efforts to investigate have been stymied by Republicans, who until this year controlled the committee. In anticipation of Democrats taking back a majority, Cummings in December sent a letter to Cipollone requesting documents “relating to the use of personal email and messaging accounts by non-career officials.” The White House hasn’t complied. “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,” Cummings wrote in the letter released Thursday, adding that if the White House doesn’t comply by April 4th, the committee could “be forced to consider alternative means to obtain compliance.”
Congress has plenty of reason to be concerned about potential violations of the Presidential Records Act. There have been several reports since Trump took office that he’s had a hard time giving up his private phone, and that he’s given his cell number to foreign leaders and encouraged them to call him directly. In October, the New York Times reported that Chinese and Russian spies “routinely” listen in on calls Trump makes on insecure lines, according to reports from American intelligence.
The messaging practices of other staffers have also been in the crosshairs, and Cummings’ most recent letter to Cipollone said officials like Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland and former adviser Steve Bannon used private email accounts for governmental business, including to discuss the “transfer of sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in coordination with Tom Barrack,” a friend of Trump’s who ran his inaugural committee, which is now under investigation. Bannon was also mentioned in a September 2017 Times report that at least six White House advisers used private email accounts. The same month, Politico reported that Kushner used a private email account to conduct White House business during the first seven months of the administration. In October, CNN reported that he used WhatsApp to communicate with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
I always want to remind Americans that MBS, the brutal crown prince of Saudi Arabia who murdered US journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has bragged that he has Jared Kushner in his "back pocket." Carry on.
— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) March 21, 2019
Many have been quick to point out the irony of the news that Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been using private means of communication, especially as Trump and his allies remain obsessed with Clinton and the FBI’s decision not to prosecute her for using a private email server. Even Clinton has weighed in, responding to a tweet from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
Tell me about it.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 22, 2019
She’s got a point.