White House private emails: House committee ramps ups pressure

White House private emails: House committee ramps ups pressure

BY BBC NEWS,26TH SEPT 2017-A committee of Congress has called on the White House to provide details of any aides who have used private emails for official business.

The investigation comes after Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner admitted doing so, and the New York Times reported that five other aides also used private email accounts.

Mr Kushner, a senior adviser, has been asked to preserve all his emails.

His wife, Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka, is also said to have a private account.

The New York Times has named the four other staffers implicated as Steve Bannon, the former chief White House strategist; Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff; and advisers Gary D Cohn and Stephen Miller.

Meanwhile, Newsweek magazine says it has details of an email Ivanka Trump sent about collaboration with a business organisation, copying in two federal officials.

Who is behind the investigation?

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has a responsibility for monitoring the effectiveness and accountability of federal government, has sent a letter to the White House demanding more information.

The letter was signed jointly by Republican Trey Gowdy, who chairs the committee, and Democrat Elija Cummings, the second most senior member.

Addressed to White House Counsel Donald McGahn, it says: “Have you or any non-career official at the White House ever used a personal email account to conduct official business?

“If so, please identify the individual and the account used, and provide evidence of measures to ensure compliance with federal law.”

The letter sets a deadline of 9 October for the disclosure of more information.

Are private emails illegal?

It is not illegal for White House officials to use personal email accounts for government business.

However, under the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act, government officials must forward any official correspondence to a work account within 20 days for preservation.

If this is not done reliably, the use of private accounts can put official records beyond the reach of journalists, lawmakers and others who seek publicly available information.

Newsweek claims Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, used a private account in the first months of her father’s administration when she was an unpaid adviser

In a statement Mr Kushner’s lawyer said: “Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account.”

He said most were news articles or political commentary and “all have been preserved in any event”.

There are also rules against sharing classified or privileged information on personal email accounts.

However, there is no suggestion that Mr Kushner or any of the others named did this.

Why else is this controversial?

The situation leaves the Trump family open to claims of hypocrisy, as President Trump has repeatedly criticised Hillary Clinton for using a personal email account while she was secretary of state.

On the campaign trail, he vowed to imprison his Democrat rival over her handling of classified information.

Mr Cummings, from the House committee, sent a letter to Mr Kushner on Monday, quoting from the Republican investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server to justify asking him to keep his emails.

“The public has a right to access public records,” he wrote, quoting Trey Gowdy’s letter to Mrs Clinton’s legal team on 19 March 2015.

“The public has a right to certainty that no classified or sensitive information was placed at risk of compromise.”

Are Kushner and Clinton accused of the same thing?

There are some key differences between the two cases.

Mrs Clinton had set up a private email server from her New York home – and used an email hosted by the server for all her emails, including at least 30,000 official emails, during her four years as secretary of state.

She did not use, or even activate, a state.gov email account, which would have been hosted on servers owned and managed by the US government.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mrs Clinton was criticised for using a personal email account while secretary of state

The FBI said that “several thousand” work-related emails were not turned over to the State Department, and that Mrs Clinton had been “extremely careless” in handling classified information. However, an investigation into the matter was closed without charges.

It is not clear how many official emails Ms Trump, Mr Bannon, Mr Priebus, Mr Cohn and Mr Miller sent from their personal accounts.

However, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that all White House employees had been told to “use official email to conduct all government related work” and “if they receive work-related communication on personal accounts, they should be forwarded to official email accounts”.

Have other politicians engaged in similar activities?

Other politicians and officials – both in federal and state governments – have sometimes relied on personal email for official business.

Colin Powell, secretary of state under President George W Bush, told ABC he used a personal email account while in office, including to correspond with foreign leaders.

The state department inspector general report found that many of Mrs Clinton’s predecessors – including Mr Powell – were also not in compliance with federal recordkeeping requirements, although the rules governing their actions were less detailed when they were in office.

 

 

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