The House Oversight Committee voted on Thursday to authorise a subpoena for all work-related texts and emails sent or received by White House officials on personal accounts, part of a long-running probe into whether senior administration aides have violated federal records laws by using private messaging services for official business.
The 23-16 vote, divided along party lines, puts into the crosshairs President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, both of whom have admitted through an attorney to using personal accounts in the course of their work.
The effort is also a turnabout of sorts for House Republican efforts in 2016 to highlight Hillary Clinton’s use of personal emails for her official work as secretary of state.
“The committee has obtained direct evidence that multiple high-level White House officials have been violating the Presidential Records Act by using personal email accounts, text messaging services, and even encrypted applications for official business — and not preserving those records in compliance with federal law,” Elijah Cummings, chairman of the committee, said.
“What we do not yet know is why these White House officials were attempting to conceal these communications.”
The broad subpoena includes all communications — even messages that contained classified material — sent or received by White House employees, including employees in the National Security Council.
It specifically names Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff.
The committee first requested those messages in March 2017 under the Republican leadership of Jason Chaffetz, after reports that multiple White House officials, including Ivanka Trump, were using encrypted apps to conduct administration business.
CNN reported in October that Mr Kushner had communicated with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia using WhatsApp, and a lawyer for Mr Kushner and Ivanka Trump confirmed to the committee in March that they both used private email accounts for White House business.
The White House has not produced a single document in response, Mr Cummings said. The Presidential Records Act requires that nearly all communications with White House staff on official matters be preserved and that officials who use personal accounts either copy or forward an official account on all such messages.
Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the panel, painted the efforts as a partisan attack on Donald Trump.
“They are so desperate to get the President. They just can’t help themselves,” Mr Jordan wrote on Wednesday on Twitter.
Just last month, Mr Jordan and two other Republicans called on the committee to renew its examination of Ms Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Democrats on the committee slammed Republicans’ opposition to the authorisation and charged them with hypocrisy after Republicans demanded thousands of Ms Clinton’s private emails as part of the Benghazi investigation.
Mr Trump made Clinton’s private email server a central line of attack in his 2016 campaign for president.
“We received those documents, and I called for them to be made public,” Mr Cummings said. “Our approach today should not be different merely because Donald Trump is president.”