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House Democrats plan to investigate Ivanka Trump's use of personal email for government business

Ivanka Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Oct. 9, 2018. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Zach Gibson
Ivanka Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Oct. 9, 2018. CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Zach Gibson

WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee plans to investigate whether Ivanka Trump violated federal law by using a personal email account for government business, the panel’s incoming chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Tuesday.

In a statement, Cummings said the committee launched a bipartisan investigation last year into White House officials’ use of personal email accounts, but the White House did not provide the requested information.

“We need those documents to ensure that Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other officials are complying with federal records laws and there is a complete record of the activities of this Administration,” Cummings said.

In what appeared to be an acknowledgment of the potential risk of a backlash against Democrats for aggressively probing the Trump administration, Cummings also emphasized that his focus upon becoming chairman of the committee will be to address the everyday issues impacting Americans.

“My goal is to prevent this from happening again — not to turn this into a spectacle the way Republicans went after Hillary Clinton,” he said.

House Republicans created a special committee to investigate the deadly 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and it was that panel that uncovered Clinton’s use of a personal email server for government business during her tenure as secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

Republicans excoriated Clinton’s use of personal email during her 2016 bid for president, prompting an FBI investigation that found that she had been “extremely careless” but that there was no intention to violate laws on handling classified information.

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During the yearslong Benghazi panel’s investigation, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had acknowledged the political impact, saying the committee’s inquiry hurt Clinton’s poll numbers.

The Washington Post contacted representatives for all of the Republicans still in office who served on the Benghazi committee or as chairmen of the Oversight and Government Reform committee about Trump’s email use. Of those, only one — a spokesman for Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind. — replied: “No comment.”

American Oversight, the liberal watchdog group whose record requests led to the discovery regarding Trump’s use of her personal email, said in a letter to the top members of the panel and the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier Tuesday that “it is incumbent on Congress to investigate this matter immediately.”

“The parallels between Ms. Trump’s conduct and that of Secretary Clinton are inescapable,” Austin Evers, the group’s executive director, said in the letter. “In both her use of personal email and post-discovery preservation efforts, Ms. Trump appears to have done exactly what Secretary Clinton did — conduct over which President Trump and many members of Congress regularly lambasted Secretary Clinton and which, they asserted, demonstrated her unfitness for office.”

Evers added that “while much of the rhetoric surrounding Secretary Clinton’s use of personal email was hyperbolic and untethered to the law or facts, the extensive use of personal email by a senior public official raises important questions that merit investigation.”

The White House has been bracing for the new revelation to spur a deeper investigation next year by House Democrats of Ivanka Trump’s correspondence in her personal, official and business life.

Ivanka Trump first used her personal email to contact Cabinet officials in early 2017, before she joined the White House as an unpaid senior adviser, according to emails obtained by American Oversight and first reported by Newsweek.

When she joined the White House, Trump pledged to comply “with all ethics rules.” But she continued to occasionally use her personal email in her official capacity, people familiar with an administration review of her email use told The Washington Post.

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In a statement Monday, Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s attorney and ethics counsel, Abbe Lowell, said that the first daughter’s email use was different from that of Clinton, who had a private email server in the basement of her Chappaqua, New York, home. At one point, an archive of thousands of Clinton’s emails was deleted by a computer specialist amid a congressional investigation.

Behind the scenes, White House officials urged supporters and allies to defend Ivanka Trump and make the case publicly that her personal email use was different from that of Clinton, according to two people familiar with the administration’s talking points.

The core of their argument: the volume of private emails she sent was much smaller, the messages did not contain classified material and she did not delete them, they said. The White House is urging surrogates to make the case that it would be Democratic overreach to investigate her, the people added.

A few Trump allies had spoken out on her behalf by Tuesday afternoon, including Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who tweeted: “There are over 30,000 BleachBit reasons why the Hillary Clinton email scandal isn’t even close to the Ivanka email issue.”

Democratic lawmakers criticized Ivanka Trump over the matter Tuesday, with some arguing that it pointed to larger ethical problems within the Trump administration.

“There’s no way that she had no knowledge of the rules,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said on CNN. “But really there’s a larger story here, which is the mixing of public and private, as with her clothing brand and her public position, the blending and mixing of emails ... There should be some kind of investigative effort.”

In the wake of the news, several lawmakers ridiculed President Donald Trump for having attacked Clinton over her email use.

“Cue the chant?” tweeted Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, in a nod to Trump supporters’ frequent cries of “Lock her up!” at the president’s rallies.

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Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., tweeted a story about Ivanka Trump’s email and commented, “Karma has a sense of humor.”

Some former Trump White House officials also chastised Ivanka Trump over the matter.

“It’s hypocritical, and, certainly, it looks bad. And I’m sure the media will have a field day with it today,” Marc Short, who served as President Trump’s legislative affairs director, said on CNN. He added that there are “some important distinctions” between the Clinton and Ivanka Trump cases, such as the fact that thousands of Clinton’s emails were deleted.

Anthony Scaramucci, who served as White House communications director for 11 days last year, told CNN that the error was so glaring that Ivanka Trump herself would have to acknowledge it if asked.

“Certainly, I think it’s hypocritical,” he said. “I think even Ivanka, if she was interviewed about it, she’d have to say that it was a mistake. You can’t do that in that position.”

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The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Karoun Demirjian and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.

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