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Lawyer for Kushner and Ivanka Trump acknowledged use of private email, Democrats say

Ivanka Trump used personal email for gov't
Ivanka Trump used personal email for government business 01:59

Washington — House Democrats are pressing the White House to turn over information and documents related to an investigation into whether some of President Trump's advisers, including daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, violated federal records law, threatening to take "alternative means" if the administration does not comply. 

In a letter addressed to White House counsel Pat Cipollone on Thursday, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said the couple's attorney acknowledged they used personal email accounts to conduct official government business, with Kushner also communicating on the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp. The attorney, Abbe Lowell, disputed portions of Cummings' account in a subsequent letter Thursday afternoon.

Cummings said the administration has not provided the panel with a "single piece of paper" since he requested a batch of records — as well as a briefing by White House officials — last December. 

"The White House's failure to provide documents and information is obstructing the Committee's investigation," Cummings wrote in the letter. "The Committee requests that you confirm by March 28, 2019, whether you intend to comply voluntarily with its requests or whether the Committee should consider alternative means to obtain the information it needs to conduct its investigation."

After the White House failed to respond to Cummings' document and briefing requests in December, Cummings added in his letter, the committee gathered information that raised "more concerns" about the personal email use of Kushner and other White House officials. The Maryland Democrat said Kushner's attorney told the committee in December that his client, who is also senior adviser to the president, has been using WhatsApp to communicate with foreign leaders in the course of his official White House duties.

Cummings said he and Rep. Trey Gowdy, the committee's Republican chairman at the time, met with Lowell, the personal lawyer for Kushner and Ivanka, in December 2018. When asked if Kushner discussed classified information in his communications on WhatsApp, Lowell replied, "That's above my pay grade," according to Cummings. He said Lowell told them Kushner preserves records of his communication by taking screenshots of his WhatsApp messages and forwarding them to his official White House email.

Cummings added that Lowell also said his other client, Ivanka, sends personals email messages relating to her duties to her official White House email account only when she responds to them. The Democratic chairman said her practices "appear" to violate the Presidential Records Act.

Section 2209 of the statute stipulates that White House officials are required to forward a "complete copy" of "official business conducted using non-official electronic messaging accounts" to "an official electronic messaging account of the President, Vice President, or covered employee" no later than 20 days after the creation of the communication.     

A spokesman for Lowell provided Lowell's response to Cummings on Thursday afternoon. In the letter addressed to Cummings, Lowell disputed some of Cummings' assertions, saying the congressman's letter is "not completely accurate about what was said."

Lowell said he never told the committee Kushner's communications through WhatsApp were with foreign "leaders" or "officials." Instead, Lowell claimed he told the committee his client communicated through the app with "some people," but did not specify who the individuals were. The attorney noted Kushner has "numerous friends and contacts abroad."

Lowell also disputed the assertion that he acknowledged Ivanka still only forwards some of her personal emails involving official business to her White House email account. He said his comments to the committee involved Ivanka's email use before September 2017. Lowell added he later told the committee, "Now she always forwards official business to her White House account."

Freshman Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to the reports of Kushner's questionable use of the app, alluding to similar scrutiny former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was under for her use of  a private email server. 

"But his WhatsApp," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. The subtle nod caught the attention of Clinton, who sarcastically responded, "Tell me about it."

In a statement, White House Counsel spokesman Steven Groves confirmed the administration received Cummings' 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 added.

Cummings' letter is part of the intensifying efforts by House Democrats to investigate the president and his administration for alleged wrongdoing. On Wednesday, the former White House communications director Hope Hicks agreed to turn over documents requested by the House Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into whether Mr. Trump and his administration have undermined the rule of law. 

Rebecca Kaplan, Sara Cook and Paula Reid contributed to this report. 

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