Presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has corresponded with other administration officials about White House matters through a private email account set up during the transition last December, part of a larger pattern of Trump administration aides using personal email accounts for government business.
Kushner uses his private account alongside his official White House email account, sometimes trading emails with senior White House officials, outside advisers and others about media coverage, event planning and other subjects, according to four people familiar with the correspondence. POLITICO has seen and verified about two dozen emails.
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“Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner, said in a statement Sunday. “Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account. These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”
Aides who have exchanged emails with Kushner on his private account since President Donald Trump took office in January include former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, and spokesman Josh Raffel, according to emails described to or shown to POLITICO. In some cases, those White House officials have emailed Kushner’s account first, said people familiar with the messages. At times, Bannon and Priebus have also used private email accounts to correspond with Kushner and others.
The decision to set up new, private accounts as Kushner was preparing to enter the White House came in the wake of a bitter election campaign in which Trump routinely excoriated his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for using a personal email account to handle government business when she was secretary of state.
There is no indication that Kushner has shared any sensitive or classified material on his private account, or that he relies on his private email account more than his official White House account to conduct government business. Aides say he prefers to call or text over using email.
Still, Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, set up their private family domain late last year before moving to Washington from New York, according to people with knowledge of events as well as publicly available internet registration records. At the time, Kushner — who served as a senior campaign adviser — was expected to be named to a White House role, while Ivanka Trump was publicly saying she didn’t plan to work in her father’s administration.
Kushner’s representatives declined to detail the server or security measures on it.
People familiar with the account say it was primarily set up for Kushner’s personal communications, but he has used it to communicate with acquaintances outside the White House about matters relating to Trump and the administration, according to people who have received messages, as well as with his White House colleagues.
Kushner has been under scrutiny in the ongoing Russia probes, which have expanded to include potential obstruction of justice by the president and his aides since January, and Kushner’s private email traffic may also be of interest to FBI and congressional investigators.
Ivanka Trump, now an assistant to the president, has an email account on the same domain, they said. POLITICO has not seen Ivanka Trump’s correspondence, and there is no indication that she used her account to discuss government business.
Private email traffic among White House aides — some of it sent between personal email accounts rather than to or from government addresses — could skirt the requirements of the Presidential Records Act, which requires all documents related to the president’s personal and political activities to be archived. Trump himself is not known to use email but occasionally has email messages to his assistant printed and presented to him.
Lowell said Kushner has adhered to government record-keeping requirements by forwarding all the emails to his account, though POLITICO could not verify that.
Other White House officials have also sometimes used personal accounts to correspond with Kushner and with each other, according to emails seen by POLITICO and people familiar with Kushner’s correspondence. They have also used encrypted apps like Signal and Confide that automatically delete messages, prompting former press secretary Sean Spicer in February to issue a warning to communications staffers that using such apps could violate the Presidential Records Act.
The use of personal email accounts in the Trump White House has been somewhat common, even though the president has been a harsh critic of Clinton’s private email habits, frequently leading “lock her up” chants as he traveled across the country on the campaign trail.
“It was an incredibly effective attack,” said Evan Siegfried, a GOP consultant. “He did a great job of injecting the emails into the mainstream.”
Clinton was the target of an extensive FBI investigation, overseen by former FBI Director James Comey, into whether she mishandled classified material by sending or receiving it via her non-government email address.
In her newly released memoir, Clinton cited the investigation into her email practices as one reason for her defeat. Comey, who in July 2016 formally cleared her of any wrongdoing, reopened the issue in late October, days before the election, after finding a cache of emails backed up on a computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, the husband of Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin.
The 2016 election was also shaped by the release of hacked emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee as well as from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The hack is being investigated as part of FBI special counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
A former Obama administration lawyer said aides were asked to not use personal email accounts for official or political business but that occasionally an aide would send a message and later forward it to their account.
If emails related to Trump aren’t saved, it could be difficult for historians, according to Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. Zelizer said that historians can provide a richer history of how administrations work — and historians have feared for years that the proliferation of email will lead some people to do their business in ways in which the records can’t be archived. Zelizer said it could also make the job more difficult for investigators seeking to understand parts of the White House.
“There’s a reason we require officials to keep those records,” said Zelizer. “Even if 80 percent of someone’s records are not interesting, the other 20 percent can be very illuminating on how an administration worked.”
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