March 26, 2023

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Politics: Top Democrat is pushing House Oversight chairman to turn up the heat on the White House over use of private email

  • Rep. Elijah Cummings is pushing Rep. Trey Gowdy to turn up the heat on the White House over officials’ use of private email.
  • Cummings says the White House has not properly complied with past requests.
  • He’s asking Gowdy to either demand “full compliance” or allow the House Oversight Committee to vote on subpoenaing the White House for documents.

A top Democrat is pushing his Republican counterpart to turn up the heat on the White House over official’s use of private email.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote a letter to chairman and Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, on Friday asking him to either demand “full compliance” from the White House, or allow for the committee to vote on subpoenaing the White House for documents.

Cummings said White House lawyers said this week that “several” Trump administration officials used private email accounts to conduct government business, which is in violation of the Presidential Records Act. Cummings said the lawyers, deputy counsel Stefan Passantino, deputy counsel Uttam Dhillon, and associate counsel Daniel Epstein, refused to name the officials.

Cummings’ letter follows a September letter he sent to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner asking for him to preserve official records of his emails and provide the committee with email addresses for any private account he used to conduct official business as well as a list of emails he’d sent or received on those accounts pertaining to official business.

The Maryland Democrat noted that both he and Gowdy sent a joint letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn the same day as that Kushner letter “requesting documents relating to multiple reports that the president’s top advisers used personal email accounts, non-governmental servers, and private domains to communicate about official business.”

He wrote that “the White House essentially disregarded these requests.”

“Marc Short, the assistant to the president and director of legislative affairs at the White House, sent a letter to the committee proclaiming broadly that ‘the White House has endeavored to educate all White House employees regarding their responsibilities under the’ Presidential Records Act,” Cummings wrote.

“However, the letter from the White House failed to identify a single White House official who used a non-governmental email account, failed to identify a single non-governmental email account that was used, and failed to provide any information whatsoever about White House officials who used personal text messaging, phone-based message applications, or encrypted software for official communications.”

He added that this week, Oversight Committee staff received a briefing from White House officials, during which they continued to refuse to identify any White House officials who used private email for government business.

“The White House officials who provided this week’s briefing stated that several White House employees came forward and ‘confessed’ that they failed to forward official records from their personal email accounts to their governmental email accounts within 20 days, as the Presidential Records Act requires,” Cummings continued. “However, the White House officials refused to identify these employees.”

Cummings wrote that his staff informed him Thursday that Gowdy declined to send a follow-up to the White House seeking the information requested because the administration was in “full compliance” with the original request.

“Based on the record before us, I do not believe anyone can reasonably argue that the White House is in ‘full compliance’ with our document request,” Cummings wrote to Gowdy. “If you decide to follow-through on your proposed course of action, the committee essentially will be abdicating its oversight responsibilities under the Constitution by walling off the White House from serious congressional scrutiny.”

He said this is “unfortunately” part of a “troubling pattern of the Oversight Committee capitulating to the Trump White House rather than exercising its independent authority to conduct oversight of the executive branch.”

Cummings asked that Gowdy send another letter to the White House demanding full compliance by October 26.

Gowdy responded to Cummings’ letter in a statement his office sent to Business Insider. The South Carolina representative said Cummings’ “assertion that the White House has not cooperated is false.”

“Our investigation into private email use for official business is government-wide and not about one entity,” he said. “The committee has been looking at the use of private email for years. I’m glad my Democrat colleagues now acknowledge the severity of the issue. The White House provided a briefing this week to share specific details on all of our outstanding questions and committed to follow up at the conclusion of an ongoing investigation.”

“Allegations that we have completed our engagement with the White House on this issue are absurd,” he continued. “As recently as this morning I was on the phone with a cabinet-level official to ensure their full compliance. We need the documents — not the drama.”

Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser to the president, set up a private email account in December and used it since to discuss official government business with fellow administration officials, Politico reported last month.

Some of those officials included former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and National Economic Council chairman Gary Cohn.

Though Kushner’s lawyer said the adviser also “uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” he admitted that Kushner had utilized a personal email account to discuss government business.

“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,” the lawyer said. “These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”

“Kushner has adhered to government record-keeping requirements by forwarding all the emails to his account,” the lawyer added.

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