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.
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 did not 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, as well as 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 former 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.
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 Trump administration’s record-keeping practices and personal email use.