The National Archives is investigating Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for using as many as four personal email accounts to conduct official government business, Politico reported Thursday.
“The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has become aware of a potential unauthorized disposition of U.S. Department of Commerce records,” an official with NARA wrote in an Oct. 9 letter to the Commerce Department’s chief information officer.
The letter added that federal law “prohibits employees from creating or sending a record using a non-official messaging account unless the employee copies his or her official email account when the record is first transmitted, or forwards a complete copy of the record to the official email account within 20 days of the record’s original transmission.”
The investigation was sparked after Democracy Forward, a watchdog organization, obtained emails through a Freedom of Information Act request showing Ross conducting official business over personal accounts. Over a 16-month period, the Commerce Department found 280 email chains that included references to one or more of Ross’ four private email accounts, according to Politico.
According to a late September report in the Washington Post, Ross used his personal email to correspond with “the European Commission for Trade, a U.S. ambassador’s meeting with German car manufacturers, a dinner featuring the ambassador of Japan, what appears to be an event related to billionaire businessman Bill Koch,” and Charles Johnson, a holocaust-denier kicked off of Twitter for posting death threats aimed at leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement who is nonetheless still courted by several Republican politicians.
Democracy Forward is engaged in a lawsuit to force the Commerce Department to search Ross’ personal accounts for additional work-related emails. The Justice Department opposes the action, arguing that the search will only find duplicates of the emails already uncovered.
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump and Republicans insisted Hillary Clinton’s use of private email during her tenure as secretary of state was disqualifying. In mid-October, however, a multi-year Republican-led inquiry into the issue determined there was “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”
Despite the insistence during the campaign that digital security was of paramount importance, Ross is not the only Trump administration official who has been found using personal email to conduct official business.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who is a high-level White House official, has been caught using her personal email for White House affairs, as has her husband, Jared Kushner, also an adviser to Trump. In March, reports surfaced that Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, used a personal AOL account to discuss sensitive nuclear technology issues related to Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, Education Secretary Betsy Ross used her personal email for government business.
According to a series of text messages released last month, several U.S. diplomats involved in the ongoing Ukraine scandal also used encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp to discuss foreign policy matters, including Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival by withholding military aid.
Despite Republicans’ vocal concerns about protecting classified information, multiple GOP lawmakers this week stormed a secure facility where an impeachment inquiry hearing was being held, holding their cell phones. Experts have said doing so created a national security risk.
Published with permission of The American Independent.