President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has used a private email account to conduct and discuss official White House business dozens of times, his lawyer confirmed Sunday.
Kushner used the private account through his first nine months in government service, even as the president continued to criticize his opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Democrat Hillary Clinton, for her use of a private email account for government business. Kushner several times used his account to exchange news stories and minor reactions or updates with other administration officials.
Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, set up the private account before Donald Trump moved into the White House and Kushner was named a senior adviser to the president in January. Once in the White House, Kushner used his private account for convenience from time to time - especially when he was traveling or using a personal laptop, according to two people familiar with his practice. A person who has reviewed the emails said many were quickly forwarded to his government account and none appear to contain classified information.
Clinton offered a similar explanation in 2015 when it was revealed that she set up a private email account as her exclusive means of email communication when she was secretary of state. Clinton also said she opted for private email "as a matter of convenience." She insisted that she never shared classified information on her private account or tried to sidestep the federal law that requires that official government communications are preserved. She said nearly all of her communication was stored by the government because she was communicating with other officials on their government accounts.
Kushner's use of a private account was first reported Sunday by Politico.
Trump repeatedly blasted Clinton during the 2016 campaign for her email practices - and has continued to do so for many months after defeating her in the race to the White House.
"What the prosecutors should be looking at are Hillary Clinton's 33,000 deleted emails," Trump said in West Virginia in early August. He made the comment just hours after news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was using a grand jury to investigate the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russia.
The president had a similar refrain in mid-July, when his son Donald Trump Jr. faced questions about a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer during the campaign after he was offered incriminating information about Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?" Trump tweeted on July 13.
Kushner's use of a private account, however, does appear to differ in degree from the former secretary of state and Democratic nominee, according to the descriptions provided Sunday. Kushner and his wife didn't set up a private server, two people familiar with their email account said. Kushner's lawyer said his client used official White House email to conduct much of his official government business, and the private email was incidental.
"Fewer than a hundred 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," Kushner's lawyer Abbe Lowell said Sunday. "These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal, rather than his White House, address. All non-personal emails were forwarded to his official address and all have been preserved in any event."
These dozens of emails typically discussed media stories about the Trump White House, planning for coming events and some reactions and logistics. A person who has reviewed the emails said several contained nothing more than links to news stories.
Lowell declined to answer questions about how it was determined that none of the emails contained classified information. Clinton also claimed none of her emails contained classified information, but later reviews founds hundreds contained secret information and a small handful contained top secret material.
Lowell declined to specify if Kushner routinely forwarded all of his private emails to his government account, but said that all have since been forwarded for preservation.
Kushner's use of a private account mirrors a broader trend within the Trump White House. He is not alone in communicating about official business over private channels.
Many senior White House officials and others in the administration regularly correspond with journalists about government business on their personal cellphones, as opposed to using their official lines. People familiar with his communications said former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former senior adviser Stephen Bannon also used private email accounts from time to time, including in their exchanges with Kushner. It's unclear if these officials forwarded emails to their White House accounts, said one White House official.
Bannon could not be reached for comment Sunday.
William Burck, an attorney for Priebus, declined to comment.
A person familiar with Priebus' email use said his general practice was to use his White House account but confirmed he used a personal account from time to time, particularly to respond when other people emailed him using the account. This person said such exchanges were rare, but more common at the start of Trump's term, particularly since Priebus had been using the account during the presidential transition. The account was one he had held for a number of years.
Clinton was the subject of a massive FBI investigation last year that focused on whether she or her aides had mishandled classified information when she set up a private server to handle all of her work discussions on email. Clinton has since blamed her loss of the presidential race on the flawed explanations and hyperbolic reaction to her use of a private email account. She said that then-FBI Director James Comey's decision to publicly announce he was reviving the investigation in the final days of her campaign battle tipped the election to Trump.
Clinton's choice to entirely sidestep government emails during her tenure while also using a private server was unprecedented. But Congress has lambasted other government officials who appeared to be trying to shroud their communications from public view. Republicans criticized former Obama Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson for using a dummy account name - "Richard Windsor" - on an EPA government email account for some of her personal communications.
They also criticized Jonathan Silver, an Obama appointee to the Energy Department, when one of his emails showed him warning his subordinates amid a discussion of government business: "Don't ever send an email on doe email with private email addresses. That makes them supoenable."
The Federal Records Act requires government officials and agencies to create systems and practices so that they preserve all records, memos, correspondence and other documents that detail their government work.
The use of personal email to conduct government business potentially puts those messages beyond the reach of congressional investigators and the media requesting public information. Private accounts can also open security risks if the email service used is lax on password security or doesn't regularly patch its software - weaknesses that hackers can exploit to gain access.