Senior Trump administration staffers, including Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon, had until Wednesday active accounts on a Republican National Committee (RNC) email system, Newsweek has learned.
The system (rnchq.org) is the same one the George W. Bush administration was accused of using to evade transparency rules after claiming to have “lost” 22 million emails.
Making use of separate political email accounts at the White House is not illegal. In fact, they serve a purpose by allowing staff to divide political conversations (say, arranging for the president to support a congressional re-election campaign) from actual White House work. Commingling politics and state business violates the Hatch Act, which restricts many executive branch employees from engaging in political activity on government time.
But after then-candidate Donald Trump and the Republicans repeatedly called for “locking up” Hillary Clinton for handling government work with a private server while secretary of state, the new White House staff risks repeating the same mistake that dogged the Democrat’s presidential campaign. They also face a security challenge: The RNC email system, according to U.S. intelligence, was hacked during the 2016 race.
Since this story was published, the RNC has deleted the emails of Bannon, Kushner and Conway.
If Trump staffers were using the RNC email addresses, they were subject to the “Disclosure Requirement for Official Business Conducted Using Electronic Messaging Accounts," a law, 44 U.S.C. 2209, that went into effect in 2014. If White House staffers have already used the RNC emails system for White House work, they must copy or forward those communications into the government system within 20 days.
The Disclosure Requirement was passed to prevent presidents from shielding communications that fall under the Presidential Records Act of 1978. The last time White House staffers used the same RNC email system, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington described it as an attempt to circumvent transparency.