The Trump Administration’s Questionable Email Practices

From Nikki Haley’s use of a non-classified email system for classified communications to the extensive use of personal email accounts for official business on the part of White House Senior Adviser Ivanka Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and former VA Secretary David Shulkin, the Trump administration has supplied numerous examples of officials who seem to have forgotten that the rules apply to them, too.

After the amount of attention paid during the 2016 presidential election to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, it should be clear to government officials that classified information should be handled carefully, and that the use of private email and messaging apps for government business is not allowed.

Government Business on Personal Email

The Federal Records Act requires that all government-related documents and correspondence be preserved, and if an official uses a private account for communication they must forward the content to their government account. But that message doesn’t seem to have reached multiple Trump administration officials, from cabinet members like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to members of President Donald Trump’s family like Ivanka Trump.

In November 2018, the Washington Post reported that the president’s oldest daughter had used a personal email account for official work on hundreds of occasions — a fact White House officials discovered after American Oversight filed a lawsuit the year before that sought Ivanka Trump’s emails with political appointees across the administration. In March 2019, her husband, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, was found to have used a private WhatsApp messenger for work.

The 2016 campaign’s focus on email practices doesn’t seem to have left an impression on DeVos, either, who was found by the Education Department’s inspector general to have used four different personal email accounts for work. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin used personal email to communicate with three members of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. So did his then chief of staff, Peter O’Rourke.

Add to those numbers former White House adviser Stephen Bannon and former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, who reportedly used personal email to discuss selling nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. And Kelly Craft, the ambassador to the United Nations. And former Justice Department official John Gore, who appears to have made a misleading statement in a sworn declaration to avoid having his personal email searched. 

Classified Email on Unclassified Systems

In November 2019, the Daily Beast reported on emails obtained by American Oversight that show former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley had sent multiple emails containing classified information over an unclassified system because she had lost her password for such protected communications. Those emails, sent shortly after a July 2017 North Korean missile test, contained a number of redactions indicating that the content of fell under the Freedom of Information Act’s “classified national defense” exemption.

Since the 2016 campaign’s relentless focus on Clinton’s email practices seemingly did little to instill Trump appointees with a sense of the importance of their legal obligations — or with the recognition that they are not above the law — American Oversight is continuing to investigate the administration’s record-keeping practices and personal email use.

Updates

Pompeo’s Use of Personal Email While CIA Director Highlights State Department’s Failure to Produce His Emails as Secretary

October 21, 2020
American Oversight's litigation recently produced nearly 400 pages of Pompeo's emails from his time as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

American Oversight’s Investigations into Trump’s Foreign Policy, and Five Key Takeaways from John Bolton’s Book

June 26, 2020
John Bolton's new book has brought renewed attention to a number of President Trump's corrupt foreign policy actions. Here's what we're still investigating.

News Roundup: The Subversion of Justice at the Justice Department

May 15, 2020
From investigations into the president’s perceived enemies to interference in the criminal cases of Trump allies like Flynn and Roger Stone, the ongoing politicization of the department is a dangerous threat to the rule of law.
Show all updates

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