Oversight

Gowdy: White House deleted text, social media apps from official phones

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) / Photo: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee 

House Oversight panel chief Trey Gowdy said in a letter that the White House deleted chat and social apps from government phones.

White House officials no longer have text or social media messaging apps on their official phones because of records management headaches, according to a letter from a key House oversight official.

The news came in an account of an Oct. 18 staff briefing on the administration's records management practices from three officials in the White House Counsel's office. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, recapped the meeting in an Oct. 20 letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn.

The White House officials, Gowdy said, explained "how text messaging capabilities have been removed from official devices because there are not sufficient technology solutions to capture this information in accordance with the [Presidential Records Act]," and that "similar measures have been taken for social media applications."

A request for the White House to confirm this account and detail the applications that have been removed was not immediately answered.

It's not clear if official White House phones ever supported such apps. The letter explained that the current administration is using the same IT infrastructure as the Obama White House and that the Trump team "is working to accommodate the explosion of electronic data that must be captured."

Press reports have suggested that White House staffers covered by the PRA have used encrypted chat applications like Signal, Whisper and Confide, some of which are expressly designed to delete messages after they are read.  Those apps are the subject of a lawsuit against the Trump administration filed by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in June.

"I was told months ago that the White House-issued phones do not permit the use of apps; I don't know if this is a holdover from the previous administration, but I question the implication it was done specifically by this administration to address concerns raised by its compliance with the PRA," said CREW's Anne Weismann in an email to FCW. "But the main point is that they do all have personal phones.  Given the reports about [White House] staffers text messaging and using apps like Confide and Signal, this seems to confirm that staff are using their own personal phones." 

The Hill briefing was held to update committee staffs from both sides of the aisle on the use (and possible abuse) of private email and other messaging accounts to conduct official business.

Gowdy's letter is apparently in answer to a letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), which offered a readout of the same meeting but with a different emphasis. The letter from Cummings stressed that some officials, by the White House's own account, were not in compliance with the requirement to move official emails from private to official accounts within the 20-day limit required by the PRA.

Gowdy's letter merely noted that "certain allegations of recordkeeping noncompliance are under review," adding, "we appreciate your commitment to share the findings of the internal review as soon as practicable."

Separately, Gowdy informed the heads of 16 agencies that they were partially or completely non-compliant with a request for information about the use of private email accounts, text messaging and other phone-based chat apps to conduct official business.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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