In what appears to be a politically tone-deaf move, a number of high-level Trump administration staff members reportedly have email accounts controlled by a private Republican Party server, according to Newsweek.
The Trump staffers said to still have rnchq.org email addresses include White House advisers Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner (who is also President Donald Trump‘s son-in-law), Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.
Newsweek reports that it is “not clear” whether any Trump staffers still “use” their accounts, although the publication reports that the accounts remain “active”—likely meaning messages sent to these accounts do not trigger an “undeliverable” response, at minimum.
On the surface, the only reason the use of this email server seems remotely scandalous is because Republicans, and Trump in particular, condemned Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton‘s use of a private email setup to conduct government business during her tenure as secretary of state. It is not, as Newsweek points out, illegal for federal workers to have private email accounts—indeed, it is necessary for employees to keep their work on political campaigns separate from their official government communications, as required under the Hatch Act. Clinton’s use of a private email system far exceeded that requirement.
However, if Trump administration staff members are using the accounts, they must disclose them under federal law. Further, any official White House communications transmitted through the accounts must be added to the government system within 20 days of the messages’ creation.
Failure to disclose or copy official government communications, or—as was the case with Clinton—using the email accounts to transmit classified material would potential violate federal law.
In short, this news carries a lot of “ifs”—if Trump staffers are still using the accounts, and if they fail to disclose them and transfer applicable emails to government servers, or if they use the email addresses to share classified material, then this might be more than a story about irony and bad optics.
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