A top House Democrat says White House lawyers acknowledged this week that “several” Trump administration officials used their private email accounts for government business in violation of federal record-keeping law.
But Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the lawyers repeatedly refused to name the officials and now he’s asking Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to issue subpoenas for the information.
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In a letter to Gowdy delivered on Friday, Cummings described a Wednesday briefing on the email matter from three members of the White House counsel’s office: deputy counsel Stefan Passantino, deputy counsel Uttam Dhillon and associate counsel Daniel Epstein.
The lawyers “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 wrote. “However, the White House officials refused to identify these employees.”
Asked specifically whether President Donald Trump’s senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner was among the violators, the attorneys told committee staff, “You should talk to Mr. Kushner’s counsel about that,” Cummings added.
The Maryland Democrat said the lawyers contended they couldn’t provide more details during an ongoing internal review of the matter. But Cummings said they refused to give the committee a timeline and stopped short of committing to providing the information at all, even when the review is complete.
Gowdy joined Cummings last month in requesting details from the White House on the identities of officials who had used private email accounts or text messaging apps for government business. Their request came after a POLITICO report revealed that Kushner had been using email connected to a family domain to conduct some government business. Subsequent reports found that a slew of senior Trump aides had routinely used private accounts to communicate with White House officials.
Though an initial deadline for the White House to turn over details was set for Oct. 10, the committee only received a two-page letter from Trump’s legislative liaison, Marc Short, that provided no specifics on which officials might have relied on private accounts.
Cummings now says he’s concerned that Gowdy is letting the administration slide.
“Yesterday, my staff informed me that you have declined my request to send a follow-up letter to the White House seeking the information we requested by a date certain because the White House is in ‘full compliance’ with the bipartisan document request we sent on September 25, 2017,” Cummings wrote. “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.”
Gowdy aides did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s a ratcheting up of tension between committee leaders who have tangled before — they co-led the congressional investigation into the Benghazi attacks, including a seven-hour grilling of Hillary Clinton as the presidential campaign was getting underway.
Still, the two men have largely forged a grudging respect for each other over the years, which is crucial as they attempt to work together on sometimes-sensitive investigations.
Most recently, Gowdy recently threatened to subpoena a pair of cabinet agencies for failing to respond to a separate bipartisan request on the use of costly charter jets by senior administration officials. The White House, per Gowdy’s office, was deemed “partially” compliant with that probe but is still due to turn over more documents by the end of the month.
Cummings is also pushing for Gowdy to subpoena the White House for documents connected to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned amid questions about his ties to Russia and his failure to report foreign business interests while shaping Trump administration foreign policy matters. Gowdy deferred that request to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating potential crimes in connection with Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In his letter Friday, Cummings blasted Gowdy’s decision to defer to Mueller, noting that when he and Gowdy ran the investigation into the deaths of four service members in Benghazi, “you subpoenaed thousands of documents and demanded hours of sworn testimony from witnesses” despite a separate ongoing criminal investigation.