Cummings presses White House on Kushner's use of WhatsApp for official business

The House Oversight Chair is warning the White House that he may pursue "alternate means" to obtain information about communications.
Image: Former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Testifies Before House Oversight Committee
Committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, speaks to members of the media after Michael Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill on Feb. 27, 2019.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

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By Heidi Przybyla

WASHINGTON — House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings is giving the White House a final chance to “voluntarily” comply with his investigation into the use of private email accounts by Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and other White House officials before resorting to “alternative means” to obtain the information.

In a letter sent Thursday to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Cummings accused the White House of “obstructing” his committee’s work and called the officials’ practices a potential violation of federal records laws.

The letter is part of an initial strategy by the Maryland Democrat to use his powers as the new chairman to pursue lines of inquiry that have had past bipartisan support, according to committee aides. In March 2017, then-Republican Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz joined Cummings on a letter to the White House requesting information on any use of non-official email accounts being used by its officials.

White House spokesman Steven Groves acknowledged receipt of the letter. "As with all properly authorized oversight requests, the White House will review the letter and will provide a reasonable response in due course,” Groves said.

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Among the committee’s concerns, according to Cummings’ letter, is an admission by Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, that Kushner "has been using the messaging application WhatsApp as part of his official White House duties to communicate with foreign leaders." It’s unclear whether the communications may have contained classified information. In the letter, Cummings asks that Cipollone indicate by March 28 whether the White House will comply voluntarily.

In a letter responding to Cummings Thursday, Lowell disputed he ever told the committee that Kushner had communicated with foreign leaders through any app. “I said he has used those communications with ‘some people’ and I did not specify who they were,” said Lowell, noting that Kushner has numerous “friends and contacts abroad.”

He also insisted that Kushner “follows the protocols (including the handling of classified information) as he has been instructed to do.”

Lowell also disputed reports that Ivanka Trump continued to use personal after becoming a senior adviser to her father.

The Presidential Records Act prohibits senior White House officials from creating or sending a record “using a non-official electronic message account.” The Washington Post has also reported that Ivanka Trump communicated with administration officials using her personal email account and occasionally did so even after joining the administration, sending “hundreds” of emails from her personal account.

Cummings' letter said that in October 2017, White House lawyers briefed committee staff and said several employees had acknowledged failing to forward official records from their personal email accounts within 20 days, but refused to identify who they were.

In the 2016 election, Trump said the use of a private home server by his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton was so egregious that it not only disqualified her from being president — but that she should also go to jail for it. It was a staple of his stump attacks on the Democratic nominee, punctuated by chants of “Lock her Up” at numerous campaign rallies.

Thursday's request for information is part a broad swath of demands Cummings has made of the White House. In his letter, Cummings noted that the White House has not “produced a single piece of paper” on this or any other investigation. The broad range of inquiries include questions about the administration’s immigration policy at the Mexico border, as well as hush money payments Trump made to a porn star during the 2016 election.

Hallie Jackson and Peter Alexander contributed.