The veritable parade of Trump administration officials facing scrutiny of their use of personal email for official business continues, this time with Commerce secretary and walking corruption scandal Wilbur Ross.
Per Politico, a letter made public this week shows the National Archives and Records Administration has opened an investigation into whether Ross is abiding by the Federal Records Act. Said investigation was prompted by an embarrassing Washington Post profile alleging he illegally used private accounts in correspondence with the European Commission for Trade, a U.S. ambassador, the Japanese ambassador, an event related to billionaire Bill Koch, and “meeting requests from the far-right Internet troll Charles Johnson.”
Those keeping track may remember that Trump relentlessly campaigned on opponent Hillary Clinton’s extremely questionable use of a private email server to conduct official business, which formed the basis for the “Lock her up!” chants at his rallies. Investigators later cleared Clinton of criminal wrongdoing. Trump officials have predictably been accused of similarly shady practices on a near-constant basis.
“The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has become aware of a potential unauthorized disposition of U.S. Department of Commerce records,” U.S. government Chief Records officer Laurence Brewer wrote to Commerce Department Chief Information Officer Jennifer Jessup. “This allegation is based on an article published by the Washington Post on September 30, 2019 (see attached), which states that Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, used personal email for official business.”
An ongoing court fight between watchdog groups and federal attorneys over Ross’s emails continues. According to Politico, Justice Department counsel argued in a filing on Wednesday night that Commerce officials should not be required to search Ross’s personal accounts for any messages that were not properly recorded, “even though searches of Commerce Department accounts found 280 email chains over a 16-month period that contained references to one of more of the four private accounts he used.” Government attorneys argued that Ross regularly directed those emailing him at personal accounts to use his official address, though they did not “explicitly say” they were confident Ross was in compliance with laws requiring private communications pertaining to official business be logged in records within 20 days.
Reached for comment, a Commerce Department sent the same statement via email to Gizmodo that it gave to Politico: “We look forward to engaging and cooperating with the National Archives and Records Administration on their investigation, which originated from baseless allegations in news reports.” (Ross had previously characterized the matter in near-identical fashion to the Post: “These hysterical, baseless allegations of illegal activity are without merit.”)
The Commerce Department did not immediately return Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Obviously, no one in this administration gives a shit, and toothless enforcement of federal records policies all but ensures they will suffer nothing more than a light chiding. But for the record, other current and former administration officials that have been accused of conducting official business through private channels include Ivanka Trump (hundreds of times), Jared Kushner (using WhatsApp to communicate with brutal Saudi autocrat Mohammed bin Salman), Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and virtually the entire incoming Trump administration (Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, Stephen Bannon, and Stephen Miller).
By the way, an internal White House memo recently warned that the administration’s efforts to sideline cybersecurity officials greatly increase the chances of foreign hackers compromising its communications—a risk made worse by use of unvetted private accounts—as well as shifted those officials into an organizational structure not covered by the Presidential Records Act, which was “highly concerning.” But who cares, right?
Update: 3:45 p.m. ET: Updated with statement from the Department of Commerce.