Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

White House Rebuffs Committee’s Questions on Private Email, Air Travel

Updated on
  • Administration letters give House oversight panel few answers
  • Committee Democrat says subpoenas should be considered

The White House is rebuffing a House committee’s bipartisan request for detailed information about the Trump administration’s use of private email for government work and executive branch use of government and chartered aircraft.

In two letters Monday from White House congressional liaison Marc Short, the top Republican and Democrat on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform were given little information sought on either topic -- prompting a Democrat on the panel to suggest subpoenas might be needed.

"The White House and covered employees endeavor to comply with all relevant laws and consults with the National Archives and Records Administration," Short wrote in one letter about email accounts. 

In a second letter on private air travel, he said that the administration "adheres to longstanding principles governing presidential and vice presidential travel." But, he added, not all Executive Office air travel falls under the White House chief of staff’s supervision, and that "the heads of those components are in the best position to respond to requests from your committee concerning legal compliance."

The chairman of the committee, South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, couldn’t be reached for comment through aides.

Russia Probe

White House use of private email has become part of congressional probes into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, as well as whether the administration followed federal laws requiring such records be preserved.

News accounts earlier this year revealed private email accounts used by the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, both top-level advisers, had been used for White House business. Those revelations came after Trump made his opponent Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and handling of classified information as secretary of State a cornerstone of his attacks on her during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, has said his client sent fewer than 100 emails from a personal account between January and August, most of which were responses to news articles or commentary.

"This gives hypocrisy a bad name," Representative Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said in an interview.

"Their refusal, dismissal of our request for information on emails and travel is jaw-dropping, very disturbing," Connolly said, adding that if the White House won’t provide the documents, the chairman should consider sending subpoenas.

Bipartisan Test

He suggested the standoff represents a test for Gowdy, who had led the congressional committee that helped expose Clinton’s use of a private email server. 

"Is he going to be equally fervent in enforcing the committee’s request for information from the Trump administration?" Connolly asked.

Some administration travel also has fallen under committee scrutiny in light of former Health and Human Services Tom Price’s resignation for repeatedly using private aircraft at taxpayer expense for domestic travel. Several other officials have been identified for their use of chartered jets or military aircraft as opposed to taking commercial flights. 

The panel had asked the White House and all 24 federal agencies to account for senior officials’ travel by Monday

“The White House response to both the email investigation and the charter plane investigation has been almost non-existent," Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, the committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement. "We asked for documents on a bipartisan basis, and all they sent was rhetoric. The White House response is offensive, and it remains to be seen whether our Committee will do anything about it.”

— With assistance by Shannon Pettypiece

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