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Cummings demands docs on Kushner's alleged use of encrypted app for official business

POLITICO logo POLITICO 3/21/2019 By Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney
Mark DeSaulnier, Elijah Cummings standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Rep. Elijah Cummings is demanding the documents by April 4 and signaled he may issue subpoenas if the White House refuses to comply. © Alex Wong/Getty Images Rep. Elijah Cummings is demanding the documents by April 4 and signaled he may issue subpoenas if the White House refuses to comply.

House Democrats are raising new concerns about what they say is recently revealed information from Jared Kushner’s attorney indicating that the senior White House aide has been relying on encrypted messaging service WhatsApp and his personal email account to conduct official business.

The revelation came in a Dec. 19 meeting — made public by the House Oversight and Reform Committee for the first time on Thursday — between Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Rep. Trey Gowdy, the former chairman of the oversight panel, and Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell.

Cummings, who now leads the Oversight Committee, says in a new letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone that Lowell confirmed to the two lawmakers that Kushner “continues to use” WhatsApp to conduct White House business. Cummings also indicated that Lowell told them he was unsure whether Kushner had ever used WhatsApp to transmit classified information.

"That's above my pay grade," Lowell told the lawmakers, per Cummings' letter.

Lowell added, according to Cummings, that Kushner is in compliance with recordkeeping law. Lowell told the lawmakers that Kushner takes screenshots of his messages and forwards them to his White House email in order to comply with records preservation laws, Cummings indicated.

Kushner, whom the president charged with overseeing the administration’s Middle East policies, reportedly has communicated with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman via WhatsApp.

The details of the discussion about Kushner’s email and messaging practices came as part of a new Oversight Committee demand for a slew of new documents from Kushner and other current and former White House officials, including his wife Ivanka Trump, former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, and former top strategist Stephen Bannon.

Cummings is demanding the documents by April 4 and signaled he may issue subpoenas if the White House refuses to comply.

In a reply to Cummings, Lowell disputed elements of the congressman's recollection about the conversation, suggesting that he told Cummings and Gowdy that he was not the authority on Kushner’s use of WhatsApp and that they should direct questions to the White House. "I specifically said that ‘If there was a question about Jared's use of WhatsApp, that is a question for White House counsel, not me.’”

The White House acknowledged receiving Cummings’ letter but had no immediate response. “The White House has received Chairman Cummings’ letter of March 21st,” said White House spokesman Steven Groves. “As with all properly authorized oversight requests, the White House will review the letter and will provide a reasonable response in due course.”

Gowdy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to Cummings, Lowell also told him and Gowdy that Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter who also serves as a top adviser, conducts official White House business through her personal email account. Cummings suggested that Ivanka Trump was in violation of the Presidential Records Act because she was not forwarding emails to her official White House account that deal with government-related business.

Lowell disputed Cummings' characterization of their conversation about Ivanka Trump. Lowell said that conversation was referring to Ivanka Trump's email use before September 2017.

“Now she always forwards official business to her White House account,” Lowell says he told Cummings.

Cummings also told Cipollone that the committee obtained a document showing that McFarland was using an AOL.com account to conduct official White House business. Cummings said the document shows that McFarland was in communication with Tom Barrack, a longtime Trump confidant and the chairman of the president’s Inaugural Committee, about transferring “sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.”

Barrack pitched the plan to Bannon through Bannon’s personal email account, according to Cummings.

“These communications raise questions about whether these officials complied with the Presidential Records Act and whether the White House identified this personal email use during its internal review and took steps to address it,” Cummings wrote.

The chairman also asked the White House for a briefing on its protocols for preserving records in accordance with the law.

The issue initially emerged as a bipartisan concern in 2017 when it was revealed that Kushner and Ivanka Trump were using their personal email accounts for official White House business. Gowdy, who at the time chaired the Oversight panel, had asked the White House for information about the process. But Democrats later complained that Gowdy refused to subpoena the White House over the issue.

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