Written by Nicholas Fandos (Maggie Haberman contributed reporting)
The chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee revealed information Thursday that he said showed Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner used private messaging services for official White House business in a way that may have violated federal records laws.
The chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said that a lawyer for Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump’s daughter, and Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, told the committee late last year that in addition to a private email account, Kushner uses an unofficial encrypted messaging service, WhatsApp, for official White House business, including with foreign contacts.
Cummings said the lawyer, Abbe Lowell, also told lawmakers that Ivanka Trump did not preserve some emails sent to her private account if she did not reply to them.
Democrats have barely been able to contain their frustration at what they see as a dark irony in the findings — and in earlier news reports about the couple’s use of private email accounts. Donald Trump made Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state a central line of attack in his 2016 campaign for president. Even after the FBI declined to charge Clinton for her practices and handling of classified information, Republicans in Congress have continued to pick away at the case.
Lowell could not say if Kushner had communicated classified information on the messaging service, WhatsApp, telling lawmakers that was “above my pay grade.” He asserted that because Kushner took screenshots of the communications and sent them to his official White House account or the National Security Council, his client was not in violation of federal records laws.
In a letter Thursday disclosing the new information, Cummings said the findings added urgency to his investigation of possible violations of the Presidential Records Act by members of the Trump administration, including Kushner and Ivanka Trump. He accused the White House of stonewalling his committee on information that it had requested months ago, when Republicans still controlled the House.
“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,” Cummings wrote. He said he would “be forced to consider alternative means to obtain compliance” if documents he requested about White House communications and record keeping were not shared with the committee, an indication he could subpoena them.
Steven Groves, a White House lawyer, said the White House would review Cummings’ letter and “provide a reasonable response in due course.”
Lowell, in a letter of his own, accused Cummings of misrepresenting parts of what he told lawmakers last year and disputed suggestions that either of his clients had broken the law.
The oversight committee first began scrutinizing the use of private communications services at the White House in 2017 amid news reports that Kushner had used a private email account for government business and then that Ivanka Trump had done the same.
Kushner’s use of WhatsApp was also reported earlier in at least one instance, but its scope was not previously known. CNN reported in October that Kushner had communicated with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, using WhatsApp.
Lowell confirmed details of Kushner’s private messaging use — though not his communications with Crown Prince Mohammed — during a meeting in December with Cummings and the committee’s chairman at the time, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. Asked if Kushner had been cleared to use the messaging app to communicate with foreign leaders, Lowell recommended that the lawmakers ask the National Security Council and the White House, Cummings said.
On Thursday, Lowell said that contrary to what Cummings’ letter asserted, he had not confirmed that the president’s son-in-law was communicating on WhatsApp with foreign “leaders,” merely that he messaged with “some people.” More broadly, Lowell said he had told lawmakers that he was not privy to many details of Kushner’s use of WhatsApp, instructing them, “that is a question for the White House counsel, not me.”
Lowell also took issue with Cummings’ account of what he said about Ivanka Trump.
In his letter, Cummings said that after speaking to Lowell, he believed Ivanka Trump could also potentially be in violation of the Presidential Records Act because of her use of a private email account. Specifically, he said Lowell had told the committee that although Trump forwards work-related emails received on her personal account to an official government account, she only does so if she responds to the message.
Lowell, though, said that was oversimplifying his response. In the exchange highlighted by the chairman, he had been referring to Trump’s practices before September 2017, he said. Since then, he said, “she always forwards official business to her White House account.”
Cummings’ committee is separately investigating the circumstances under which Kushner and Trump, and other administration officials, received security clearances. The New York Times reported last month that Donald Trump had personally intervened to secure a top-secret clearance for Kushner despite legal and national security concerns raised by his advisers.
Kushner and Ivanka Trump do not appear to be the only current or former White House officials in Cummings’ sights for their personal email use. He wrote Thursday that he had also obtained documents apparently showing that K.T. McFarland had used a personal AOL account for official business while she served as deputy national security adviser and that Steve Bannon had done the same while a White House adviser.
Cummings set an April 4 deadline for the White House to comply with his latest requests. To what extent it will do so, though, remains to be seen.
The White House has generally been resistant so far to satisfy requests from House Democrats.
On Thursday, the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, rejected another request from Cummings and the chairmen of the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees for information about Donald Trump’s private communications with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. In a letter, he said that the Constitution and the courts had granted the president broad authority to conduct foreign policy and that presidents of both parties had rightly fought to protect their communications with foreign leaders.
“While we respectfully seek to accommodate appropriate oversight requests, we are unaware of any precedent supporting such sweeping requests,” Cipollone wrote.