White House Employees 'Confessed' To Using Personal Email for Government Work, Administration Tells Congressional Investigators

Representative Elijah Cummings speaks to the media on May 17. Cummings has called for information about White House employees’ using personal email accounts for government work. Mark Wilson/Getty

Updated | White House lawyers say administration staffers have admitted to breaking rules about using personal communications for official work, but have refused to identify which employees violated the regulations, according to a letter sent Friday by Representative Elijah Cummings to House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy.

Following reports in late September by Politico, Newsweek and The New York Times that at least six White House officials had used personal email accounts for government work, Cummings and Gowdy sent a joint letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn. The letter called for McGahn to turn over documents and information related to the reported personal email use.

Related: Ivanka Trump used personal email account for government use

On Wednesday, three White House lawyers met with the oversight committee, according to Cummings: Stefan Passantino and Uttam Dhillon, both deputy counsel to the president, and Daniel Epstein, associate counsel to the president. During the briefing, the lawyers "stated that several White House employees came forward and 'confessed' that they failed to forward official records from their personal email accounts to their governmental email accounts within 20 days, as the Presidential Records Act requires," Cummings wrote. "However, the White House officials refused to identify these employees."

Under the Presidential Records Act, employees, including the president's immediate staff and advisers, must preserve certain correspondence. The Federal Records Act also requires employees to maintain records.

Cummings added that the officials at the briefing directed questions about Jared Kushner's email use to Kushner's personal lawyers. Kushner is the son-in-law of President Donald Trump and the assistant to the president and his senior adviser. The officials also declined to provide information because of the ongoing internal investigation into the email use, and they would not promise to provide the information after the review, according to Cummings. "They expected the committee to abandon our request for some unspecific period of time without a commitment to ultimately provide all of the information we requested," the ranking member wrote.

In Friday's letter, Cummings said he had asked Gowdy to join him in sending a follow-up letter to the White House, and that Gowdy had declined. "If you decide to follow through on your proposed course of action, the committee essentially will be abdicating its oversight responsibilities under the Constitution by walling off the White House from serious congressional scrutiny," he wrote. "Unfortunately, this is now becoming a troubling pattern of the Oversight Committee capitulating to the Trump White House rather than exercising its independent authority to conduct oversight of the executive branch." He asked Gowdy to reconsider. If Gowdy refuses, then Cummings said he wants the committee to vote on issuing a subpoena to the White House for the information.

As an example of that pattern, Cummings cited Gowdy's recent decision not to follow up on a request by the Democratic members of the committee to subpoena the White House for information about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Through a spokesperson, Gowdy disputed the claims. "The Democrats' assertion that the White House has not cooperated is false," he said in a statement on Friday. "Our investigation into private email use for official business is government-wide and not about one entity. The committee has been looking at the use of private email for years. I'm glad my Democrat colleagues [are] now acknowledge the severity of the issue."

Gowdy also defended the White House, saying it "provided a briefing this week to share specific details on all of our outstanding questions and committed to follow up at the conclusion of an ongoing investigation. Allegations that we have completed our engagement with the White House on this issue are absurd." The chairman added, "As recently as this morning, I was on the phone with a Cabinet-level official to ensure their full compliance. We need the documents—not the drama."

A White House spokesperson was unavailable to comment.

This article has been updated to include comments by Representative Trey Gowdy.