Records Management

Democrats seek answers on private email use at the White House

Shutterstock image: digital record infrastructure. 

Two Democratic senators are seeking answers about the nongovernmental e-mail accounts that high-ranking members of the Trump administration reportedly used during their first days in the White House.

The e-mail accounts, first reported by Newsweek in late January, were on a Republican National Committee-maintained system, and reportedly belonged to Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner. They accounts were subsequently deleted.

In a letter to White House Counsel Donald McGahn that was released on Jan. 7, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) state that such use could be a violation of the Presidential Records Act, which precludes immediate staff and advisers to the president from creating or sending "a Presidential record using a non-official electronic messaging account."

McCaskill is the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Carper is also sits on the committee and previously served as the panel's top Democrat.

If a non-official e-mail account is used to conduct government business, the statute requires covered employees to copy those messages to a government system within 20 days to preserve presidential record-keeping.

The messages on the private accounts have been deleted by the RNC, which "did not indicate whether or not any of these e-mail accounts were used to conduct government business," the letter states.

The letter asks McGahn to provide details on which White House officials used the RNC accounts, and whether any senior aids continue to use accounts on that system. Carper and McCaskill also want clarification as to how the White House intends to ensure compliance with the Presidential Records Act, and instructed McGahn to share a copy of the policies and procedures provided to Trump's staff to ensure federal compliance.

Use of a private email account is not necessarily improper -- and senior White House staff can be involved in political matters that do not belong in official government accounts. But in the past, use of similar RNC-run accounts raised suspicions that White House officials under President George W. Bush were deliberately trying to skirt the Presidential Records Act.

The letter seeks a response by Feb. 10.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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