Ivanka Trump, the first daughter and adviser to the president, used a personal email address to communicate with a government official after her father took office, according to documents that the nonprofit American Oversight obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and shared exclusively with Newsweek.
The documents show that on February 28, Trump—identifying herself as Ivanka Kushner—emailed Linda McMahon, the administrator of the United States Small Business Administration, from a personal domain. At the time, Trump was operating inside the White House in a nonofficial capacity. She wrote that she wanted McMahon’s agency and her staff to “explore opportunities to collaborate” on issues related to “women’s entrepreneurship.” She copied on the correspondence the government email addresses of two other federal employees, Dina Powell and Julie Radford.
Trump became an unpaid federal employee in March. But multiple government ethics experts say she likely could have had access to a White House email account in February, given that she is first daughter. Radford, her chief of staff, had a White House email address at the time.
Ivanka Trump was sitting in on White House meetings around the time she sent the email, including one between her father and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a gathering of the business advisory council.
The news that Trump used a personal email address for government work follows the disclosure on Sunday that Jared Kushner—Trump’s husband and a senior adviser to President Donald Trump—also used a personal email address for official work. That disclosure was made by Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner.
“Yet again we see that there’s one rule for the Trump family and another for everyone else,” Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight and a former senior counsel at the Department of State, said in a statement to Newsweek. “It’s simply breathtaking that both Ivanka and Jared Kushner would conduct government [work] on a personal email account after running a campaign centered on that very issue. The fact that they would brazenly ignore rules governing email use raises even more questions about their judgement and fitness to hold positions in the White House.”
Now that Trump is an official employee at the White House, her communications are not subject to FOIA requests—although they are subject to a law that requires them to be preserved.
In a statement to Newsweek, a White House spokesperson pointed out that Trump was not a federal employee at the time she sent the February 28 email. When she became a federal employee in March, “she made clear that one of her reasons for doing so was to ensure that she would have access to government-issued communications devices and receive an official email account to protect government records,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson added that prior to her obtaining an official account, Trump’s emailing other official accounts “ensured the records were preserved and available under the Federal Records Act.” Trump did not have an official email account as a first daughter at the time, according to the spokesperson.
Politico first reported on Sunday that Kushner had communicated with administration officials via an email address set up during the presidential transition period. He exchanged at least two dozen or so emails that way, according to the outlet. As the report said, there is no evidence that the emails contained classified or sensitive information.
“Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Lowell, the lawyer, said in a statement on Sunday to several news outlets. “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 [were] usually forwarded news articles or political commentary, and most often occurred when someone initiated an exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”
During the 2016 presidential election, President Trump and other Republicans made Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email system while secretary of state a central issue. (That case involved a far greater number of emails and also private servers, not just email addresses.) The FBI investigated her using that system, and Clinton has partly blamed a disclosure that former FBI Director James Comey made about the case 11 days before the election for her loss. Trump supporters would chant “lock her up,” referring to Clinton, and did so as recently as last Friday, at a rally in Alabama for Senator Luther Strange that Trump attended. Trump replied to the chanting, referring to the attorney general: “You’ve got to speak to Jeff Sessions about that.”
Republicans besides Ivanka Trump and Kushner have used personal email accounts while in the White House, too. In January, Newsweek learned that people who were then senior officials, including Kushner, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon, had active accounts on a Republican National Committee (RNC) email system. The committee deleted the accounts after Newsweek published an article about them. “There is nothing wrong with having an RNC account if it is not used for any official government business,” RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney told Newsweek at the time. “In this case, the officials previously employed by the Trump campaign never had functional email accounts with the RNC. The RNC has various distribution lists to communicate with state parties or campaigns, and as a byproduct these contact groups are assigned RNCHQ.org addresses that only forward to external accounts at their respective organizations.”
As Newsweek previously reported, the George W. Bush administration “lost” 22 million emails between 2003 and 2009. The emails at the time were stored on a private email server owned by the RNC.
The Presidential Records Act requires the preservation of certain correspondence by people including the president’s immediate staff and advisers. Federal employees are also required to maintain records under the Federal Records Act.
“Incidental use of a personal email is not that big a deal,” says Andy Wright, an associate professor at Savannah Law School who served as associate counsel to former President Barack Obama and is a founding editor of the online forum Just Security. “But if you’re using it as a separate infrastructure to try and avoid scrutiny, that becomes obviously a lot more problematic. I think we’re still waiting to see how much this was relied on as an alternate means of communication to avoid the system, versus incidental use.” (Newsweek has published articles by Wright.)
Lowell was not available to comment on Monday.