American Oversight Sues for Betsy DeVos’ Emails Sent with Personal Account

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

On August 28, American Oversight amended its complaint, suing the Education Department for all emails sent or received by Secretary DeVos over personal email, in addition to communications with select senior Education Department officials using nongovernmental, unofficial email. The amended complaint comes after the Education Department’s inspector general found that DeVos had used four separate personal accounts for agency business without properly preserving the records.

Following the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s demand on Monday that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos turn over work emails that she sent from her personal account, American Oversight is suing the Education Department to force the emails’ release.

American Oversight has been investigating the use of personal email accounts by senior Trump administration officials for more than two years. In November 2018, the Washington Post reported that one of American Oversight’s lawsuits had sparked the discovery that Ivanka Trump had used personal email for government business on hundreds of occasions.

Following that report, American Oversight filed Freedom of Information Act requests seeking records of personal email use by other senior officials — including DeVos. More than seven months later, the Department of Education has failed to comply with the FOIA request, prompting today’s lawsuit.

Specifically, the FOIA and lawsuit seek copies of emails sent between select Education Department staff and any of DeVos’ personal email accounts used by DeVos as well as any messages sent from her personal to her official accounts.

“A Trump cabinet secretary hiding her work in a personal email address isn’t just hypocritical, it thwarts accountability,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “When it comes to Betsy DeVos and the mounting evidence that she has been using her position to protect her friends in the student loan industry over students, the public deserves to know if she tried to evade scrutiny using personal email.”

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is also investigating whether the Department of Education is in compliance with the Federal Records Act and whether DeVos potentially violated the law by using a personal email address for government business. The lawsuit is part of American Oversight’s ongoing Parallel Investigations Initiative, which prevents the Trump administration from stonewalling congressional oversight requests through the use of public records requests and litigation.

On Monday, Committee Chair Elijah Cummings sent a letter to DeVos announcing the committee’s intent to investigate the “disturbing new revelations” detailed in a report by the department’s inspector general that found DeVos had used a personal email address in her official capacity.

American Oversight’s lawsuit against the Department of Education is available here.