House Democrats plan to investigate Ivanka Trump’s use of personal e-mail for government business
WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee plans to investigate whether Ivanka Trump violated federal law by using a personal e-mail account for government business, the panel’s incoming chairman, Representative Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said Tuesday.
In a statement, Cummings said the committee launched a bipartisan investigation last year into White House officials’ use of personal e-mail 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.
President Trump downplayed reports that his daughter used personal e-mail for government business, saying the e-mails didn’t contain classified information and haven’t been deleted.
Trump, speaking to reporters as he left the White House to spend Thanksgiving in Florida, said his daughter didn’t do anything to hide her e-mails and called recent reports about the private e-mail use “fake news.”
“Ivanka can handle herself,” Trump said. “No deletion whatsoever.”
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 affecting 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 US facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and it was that panel that uncovered Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail server for government business during her tenure as secretary of state under President Barack Obama.
Republicans excoriated Clinton’s use of personal e-mail 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.
During the yearslong Benghazi panel’s investigation, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, 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 e-mail use. Of those, only one — a spokesman for Representative Susan Brooks of Indiana — replied: ‘‘No comment.’’
American Oversight, the liberal watchdog group whose record requests led to the discovery regarding Trump’s use of her personal e-mail, 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 e-mail 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 e-mail was hyperbolic and untethered to the law or facts, the extensive use of personal e-mail 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 e-mail to contact Cabinet officials in early 2017, before she joined the White House as an unpaid senior adviser, according to e-mails 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 e-mail in her official capacity, people familiar with an administration review of her e-mail use said.
In a statement Monday, Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s attorney and ethics counsel, Abbe Lowell, said that the first daughter’s e-mail use was different than that of Clinton, who had a private e-mail server in the basement of her Chappaqua, N.Y., home. At one point, an archive of thousands of Clinton’s e-mails 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 e-mail use was different than that of Clinton, according to two people familiar with the administration’s talking points.
The core of their argument: The volume of private e-mails 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.
In the wake of the news, several lawmakers ridiculed President Trump for having attacked Clinton over her e-mail use.
‘‘Cue the chant?’’ tweeted Representative Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat, in a nod to Trump supporters’ frequent cries of ‘‘Lock her up!’’ at the president’s rallies.
Representative William Lacy Clay, a Missouri Democrat, tweeted a story about Ivanka Trump’s e-mail and commented, ‘‘Karma has a sense of humor.’’
Material from Bloomberg News was used in this report.