House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings raised concerns Thursday that several White House officials, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, had violated federal records law and jeopardized national security by using personal email accounts for official business and failing to properly document their communications.
In a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Cummings wrote that Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, told him and former Oversight Chair Trey Gowdy last December that both Kushner and Ivanka had been using personal email for official business. Kushner had also been utilizing the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp to interact with foreign counterparts, raising questions about whether he had been recording those interactions.
“For example during a meeting with Mr. Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, Mr. Lowell confirmed that Mr. Kushner has been using the messaging application WhatsApp as part of his official White House duties to communicate with foreign leaders,” Cummings wrote to Cipollone. “Mr. Lowell could not answer whether Mr. Kushner’s communications included classified information—which would be a major security breach—but instead directed the Committee to inquire with the National Security Council and the White House.” Cummings also said Lowell argued that Kushner was supposedly documenting his communications through WhatsApp by taking screenshots of them and forwarding them to his official White House email account or the National Security Council. Not officially documenting such communications undertaken in an official capacity is a violation of the Presidential Records Act.
Cummings’ letter also asserted that Lowell told them Ivanka was using personal email for official business but failing to forward some of those emails to her official White House account unless she replied to them.
Lowell quickly responded with a lawyerly parsing of Cummings’ characterization of what was said during that December meeting, calling it “not completely accurate.” Lowell maintained that he hadn’t exactly said Kushner was communicating in this manner with foreign “leaders” or “officials,” but rather he has used them with “‘some people’ and I did not specify who they were.”
Lowell offered similarly ambiguous language to argue that he never completely confirmed Ivanka’s use of personal email without documentation. The entire letter read more like an effort by Lowell to insulate himself rather than an attempt to shed light on the matter.
Cummings’ letter said the committee had also obtained additional documents showing former White House officials Steve Bannon and K.T. McFarland had used personal email for official business. McFarland, while serving as deputy national security adviser, allegedly used her AOL account to communicate about transferring “sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in coordination with Tom Barrack,” a personal friend of Trump who ran his inaugural committee. The Oversight panel released new details last month of the scheme by Barrack, former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and other Trump officials to sell nuclear technology to the Saudis. Bannon also received Barrack’s pitch on the plan at a personal account while he was serving as White House chief strategist, according to the letter.
Cummings charged Cipollone with informing the panel by March 28 about whether the White House would reply to its query for information on the matter. “As you know, the White House has not produced a single piece of paper to the Committee in the 116th Congress — in this or any other investigation,” Cummings wrote. “The White House’s failure to provide documents and information is obstructing the Committee’s investigation into allegations of violations of federal records laws by White House officials.”