House Lawmakers Want White House Email Documents, But Disagree On How to Get Them

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., left, confers with ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., at a 2015 hearing. House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., left, confers with ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., at a 2015 hearing. AP file photo

Republicans and Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee agree on the goal of obtaining documents that may show possible violations of federal records laws by Trump administration officials using personal email accounts to conduct official business.

But they part company on whether to request or demand responses from President Trump’s top aides.

On Friday, Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., pressed forward with an ongoing investigation by writing to 16 agency heads and the White House noting that documents that were due on Oct. 9 have not been delivered. “We requested you provide these documents and information to the committee no later than 5:00 p.m. on October 9, 2017,” Gowdy wrote. “That time has passed and we have not received sufficient communication from your department. If you have not complied with the request or satisfactorily provided a good faith commitment for complying in full on or before October 26, 2017, the chairman intends to issue a subpoena for the materials.”

Agencies that have failed to comply with the request include the Energy, Interior and Veterans Affairs departments as well as NASA. Those that have partially complied include the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Small Business Administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, State and Transportation departments.

The clash with the White House is more complicated, owing to briefings White House lawyers gave to the House committee staff informing lawmakers that, as Gowdy phrased it, “certain allegations of recordkeeping noncompliance are under review.” The White House has already tightened its recordkeeping procedures, Gowdy’s letter noted.

The larger probe stems from news reports that top White House aides Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump failed to transfer records from personal email accounts to government email accounts within 20 days, as required under the Presidential Records Act.

In late September, Politico reported that Kushner last December set up a private email account for official White House business. Then USA Today in early October reported that Kushner and Ivanka Trump had rerouted their personal email accounts to the Trump Organization shortly after receiving requests for documents from House Democrats.

On Monday, House Oversight Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote to Gowdy asking him to step up the demands and join him in his ongoing bid to pressure Kushner to comply with the document request. But Gowdy declined to sign on.

According to Cummings, the White House briefing showed that “several White House employees came forward and “confessed” that they failed to forward official records from their personal email accounts to their government email accounts,” he said in a Monday release.

When asked whether Senior Advisor to the President Kushner complied with the Presidential Records Act, the White House officials replied, “You should talk to Mr. Kushner’s counsel about that.”

Cummings asked Gowdy to “reverse your current course of action and join my requests for documents and a briefing” directly from Kushner. “If the committee is going to conduct a credible investigation into the use of private email by President Trump’s top aides, we cannot allow lawyers representing the White House and the Kushners to play off each other to withhold documents and evade congressional scrutiny,” Cummings wrote. “Instead, we should obtain the documents and information we requested from both parties, and if they continue obstructing our investigation and refusing to cooperate, we should consider compulsory measures.”

Cummings also requested that Gowdy permit a committee vote on a motion to subpoena Kushner and President Trump to obtain relevant documents.

Meanwhile, in early October the National Archives and Records Administration reminded the White House about record-keeping requirements first enunciated in March, according to an Oct. 17 report by Politico and confirmed by Government Executive. Federal records include memos, emails, speeches and record logs. The Archives posted the documents, which were prompted by inquiries last March by Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. In response, the White House strengthened compliance training. An email to White House staff NARA released from the deputy White House counsel dated Sept. 25, for example, instructed that “You must conduct all work-related communications on your official EOP email account. Use of personal email, text messages, instant messages, social networks, messaging apps (such as Snapchat, Confide, Slack or others), or other internet-based means of-communication to conduct official business is not permitted.”

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