Politico reported on Sunday that President Trump's son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner used a private email account to conduct government business from the White House for around eight months of Trump's presidency. Although he also had an official government account, Kushner reportedly used a private email server to talk official White House business with former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former presidential advisor Steve Bannon, National Economic Council Director Gary Gohn and other officials with whom he served. As a presidential candidate, Trump regularly criticized Hillary Clinton for using a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.
A lawyer for Kushner confirmed the report to Politico but attempted to downplay its significance.
“Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account," Abbe Lowell told Politico. "These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”
Sources told Politico that Kushner didn't establish the private server in question until after his father-in-law was elected president, and that as a White House employee, he's used it to communicate "with acquaintances outside the White House about matters relating to Trump and the administration" as well as with fellow White House officials. There is no evidence that he used it to send classified or sensitive materials.
POLITICO reported that Ivanka Trump, Kushner's wife and Trump's daughter, also had a private account at the time; however, it didn't verify whether or not she had used it since joining the White House.
The use of undisclosed private email accounts by any White House official is potentially significant, as the Presidential Records Act requires all official presidential communications to be retained and archived. Earlier in the Trump administration, it was reported that some White House officials were using encrypted chat apps that delete messages after they're sent; according to Politico, this prompted former press secretary Sean Spicer to reprimand staff and conduct random "phone checks" to ensure that White House communications were in compliance with federal law. Nevertheless, a watchdog organization sued the White House over the reported communications.
“There’s a reason we require officials to keep those records,” Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University, told Politico. “Even if 80 percent of someone’s records are not interesting, the other 20 percent can be very illuminating on how an administration worked."
During the presidential campaign, Trump criticized Clinton for using a private email server as Secretary of State, saying that her decision to do so had put "the entire country in danger." The FBI conducted a lengthy investigation of Clinton's email use but ultimately concluded that none of her actions were in violation of the law. At this time, Kushner was a senior advisor to the Trump campaign.
Politico, which says it verified about two dozen Kushner emails from the account, reported that he established the server in December 2016 before he and Ivanka moved to Washington D.C. ahead of Trump's inauguration. Topics discussed in those emails reportedly included press coverage, event planning and "other subjects."
Kushner's communications as a White House official have come under scrutiny several times since he joined the Trump administration. In May, the New York Times reported that Kushner attempted to establish a secret back channel between the Trump transition team and the Russian government during the presidential transition. Two months later, it was revealed that Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. attended a meeting during the campaign with a Russian attorney promising incriminating information about Clinton.