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

Nikki Haley Sent Classified Emails on an Unclassified Email System

November 21, 2019
Documents obtained by American Oversight suggest that Haley used her less-secure, unclassified email for communications about a 2017 North Korean missile launch because she had forgotten the password for her classified email system.

More Examples of Personal Email Use and Heavy-Handed Outside Influence at the VA

August 13, 2019
New documents provide further examples of the influence that outside groups and individuals — including three members of Mar-a-Lago resort — have exerted on the nation’s veterans policy.

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

July 17, 2019
American Oversight is suing the Education Department to force the education secretary to turn over work emails sent from her personal account,
Show all updates

Related Documents

November 20, 2019

FOIA to DOJ Seeking External Communications With Personal Attorneys of President Trump

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
November 12, 2019

NRR from DOD for Communications Sent to or Received by Any of Jared Kushner’s Non-Governmental Emails

Department of Defense
Agency Reply
November 8, 2019

DOJ Emails Between Select Appointees and Jared Kushner’s Non-Governmental Email Addresses

Department of Justice
Agency Record
November 8, 2019

State Withheld Records Response Regarding Pompeo’s Personal Email Use

Department of State
October 30, 2019

Complaint: American Oversight v. USDA — Perdue Emails and Georgia Industry Communications

Department of Agriculture
Litigation
August 30, 2019

USDA Communications with Law Firms Regarding Ivanka Trump’s Use of Personal Email For Official Government Business

Department of Agriculture
Agency Record
August 29, 2019

FOIA to State Department Seeking Ambassador Craft’s Personal Emails Concerning Agency Business

Department of State
FOIA Request
August 28, 2019

Complaint: American Oversight v. ED – DeVos Personal Email

Department of Education
Litigation
August 21, 2019

Complaint: American Oversight and Democracy Forward v. VA and NARA — David Shulkin’s Personal Emails

Department of Veterans Affairs, National Archives and Records Administration
Litigation
August 14, 2019

No Records Response from DHS Regarding Ivanka Trump Personal Email Use

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Reply
August 12, 2019

FOIA to USDA Seeking Secretary Perdue’s Personal Emails Concerning Agency Business

Department of Agriculture
FOIA Request
August 12, 2019

FOIA to USDA Seeking Secretary Perdue’s Sent External Emails

Department of Agriculture
FOIA Request
July 29, 2019

DOJ Declaration of John Gore Regarding Personal Email Use

Department of Justice
Agency Record
July 23, 2019

State Records Regarding Jared Kushner’s Personal Email Address

Department of State
Agency Record
July 19, 2019

No Records Response from VA Regarding Communications with Ivanka Trump’s Personal Email

Department of Veterans Affairs
Agency Reply
July 16, 2019

FOIA to Education Seeking Secretary DeVos’ Personal Emails Concerning Agency Business

Department of Education
FOIA Request
July 10, 2019

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Declaration of John Gore Related to His Use of Personal Email for Official Purposes

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
July 2, 2019

FOIA to VA Requesting Former Secretary Shulkin’s Personal Emails Concerning Agency Business

Department of Veterans Affairs
FOIA Request
May 14, 2019

American Oversight Letter to VA Secretary Regarding Personal Email Use

Department of Veterans Affairs
Agency Record
May 10, 2019

FOIA to VA Seeking Email Communications Regarding the Use of Personal Email for Official Communications

Department of Veterans Affairs
FOIA Request
April 26, 2019

VA Records Reflecting External Communications Between Secretary Shulkin’s Office and Perlmutter and Moskowitz

Department of Veterans Affairs
Agency Record
March 18, 2019

No Records Response from USDA Regarding Ivanka Trump Personal Email Use

Department of Agriculture
Agency Reply
January 10, 2019

No Records Response from DOD Regarding Ivanka Trump Use of Personal Email for Government Business

Department of Defense
Agency Reply
December 20, 2018

No Records Response from NARA Regarding Communications with the White House Regarding Ivanka Trump’s Use of Personal Email for Government Business

National Archives and Records Administration
Agency Reply
December 17, 2018

No Records Response from USTR Regarding Ivanka Trump Email Investigation

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Agency Reply
December 4, 2018

No Records Response from OSTP Regarding Use of Personal Email by Ivanka Trump

Office of Science and Technology Policy
Agency Reply
November 29, 2018

FOIA to SBA Seeking Administrator McMahon Personal Email Communications

Small Business Administration
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to CIA Seeking Former Director Pompeo’s Personal Email Communications

Central Intelligence Agency
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to Commerce Seeking Wilbur Ross’ Personal Email Communications

Department of Commerce
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to DOE Seeking Secretary Perry’s Personal Email Communications

Department of Energy
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Acting AG Whitaker’s Personal Email Communications

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to Education Seeking Secretary DeVos’ Personal Email Communications

Department of Education
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to HUD Seeking Secretary Carson’s Personal Email Communications

Department of Housing and Urban Development
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to OMB Seeking Director Mulvaney’s Personal Email Communications

Office of Management and Budget
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to the U.N. Seeking Former Ambassador Nikki Haley’s Personal Email Communications

Department of State, United Nations
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

FOIA to USDA Seeking Secretary Perdue’s Personal Email Communications

Department of Agriculture
FOIA Request
November 29, 2018

No Records Response from CEQ Regarding Ivanka Trump Email Investigation

Council on Environmental Quality
Agency Reply
November 21, 2018

Complaint: American Oversight v. DOD, HHS, DOJ, DHS, State, and Treasury – Jared Kushner Personal Email Use

Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Department of State, Department of the Treasury
Litigation
November 20, 2018

FOIA to NARA Regarding Ivanka Trump’s Use of Personal Email and the Presidential Records Act

National Archives and Records Administration
FOIA Request
November 20, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Regarding Ivanka Trump’s Use of Personal Email and American Oversight’s Lawsuit Production Schedule

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
November 20, 2018

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Communications Regarding Ivanka Trump’s Use of Personal Email

Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Labor, Department of State, Department of the Interior, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Small Business Administration
FOIA Request
November 20, 2018

FOIA to DOJ Regarding Ivanka Trump’s Use of Personal Email and American Oversight’s Lawsuit

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
November 20, 2018

Letter: Call for Congressional Investigation of Ivanka Trump Personal Email Use

Congress
October 10, 2018

Complaint: American Oversight and Western Values Project v. Interior – Secretary Zinke’s Leadership

Department of the Interior
Litigation
September 27, 2018

DOJ Records Regarding Sarah Isgur Flores’s Use of Personal Email

Department of Justice
Agency Record
May 4, 2018

FOIA to VA Seeking Communications with Outside Influences at the Agency

Department of Veterans Affairs
FOIA Request
September 26, 2017

FOIA to State Regarding Kushner Emails

Department of State
FOIA Request
September 26, 2017

FOIA to OSTP Regarding Kushner Emails

Office of Science and Technology Policy
FOIA Request
August 18, 2017

FOIA Request to EPA Regarding Konkus Grant Decisions and Personal Emails

Environmental Protection Agency
FOIA Request
April 28, 2017

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications Regarding Sarah Isgur Flores’ Use of Personal Email Accounts

Department of Justice
FOIA Request