Top Dem: WH won’t ID employees who used private email
Washington — The White House counsel’s office is refusing to tell a committee on Capitol Hill which of President Donald Trump’s aides used private email accounts for public business, a top Democrat said Friday.
According to a letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, attorneys from the White House counsel’s office said this week that “several” aides to Trump have said they failed to abide by the Presidential Records Act by using private email accounts. But Cummings said the White House lawyers would not identify the employees or commit to doing so in the future.
The White House has faced scrutiny over the email practices of top officials after it was revealed that Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House aide, Jared Kushner, set up a private email account after the election and used it to conduct work-related business. Under the Presidential Records Act, senior White House aides are required to preserve their professional communications, including email, for archiving. Work-related text messages and emails sent on personal accounts are supposed to be forwarded to government accounts for archiving within 20 days.
The White House would not answer questions from The Associated Press about why the counsel’s office is not providing the names of staffers in response to the bipartisan committee request. Instead, the White House issued a statement saying staff members are instructed to fully comply with the act and other guidelines on official records. “We will work with Congress as it engages in oversight on this issue,” the White House said in the statement.
Kushner’s personal attorney, Abbe Lowell, didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment Friday. He has previously confirmed Kushner used a private account, but said any work-related emails have been preserved by forwarding them to Kushner’s government account.
Last month, Cummings, the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, sent a letter to the White House, requesting information about the White House’s compliance with federal record-keeping laws. The request also asked for the identifies of aides who had conducted government business using personal email accounts, private text messages or encrypted messaging applications.
But in his letter Friday, Cummings said the “White House essentially disregarded these requests,” and he pressed Gowdy to push for more information, including the identities of the officials who used private emails to conduct government business.
“Based on the record before us, I do not believe anyone can reasonably argue that the White House is in ‘full compliance’ with our document request,” Cummings said.
But in a statement Friday afternoon, Gowdy said the “assertion that the White House has not cooperated is false.”
“The White House provided a briefing this week to share specific details on all of our outstanding questions and committed to follow up at the conclusion of an ongoing investigation. Allegations that we have completed our engagement with the White House on this issue are absurd,” Gowdy said.
Gowdy said his committee’s investigation into private email use is “government-wide and not about one entity.” He said the White House has committed to provide additional information to the committee after the completion of an ongoing investigation.
In his letter, Cummings said that the attorneys from the White House counsel’s office — Stefan Passantino, Uttam Dhillon and Daniel Epstein — would not commit to providing the names of presidential aides in the future including after the conclusion of an internal review.