Trump tweets, officials’ messaging apps draw bipartisan scrutiny from House panel

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Brookings Institution / Flickr)

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Leaders from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform this week queried President Trump about allegedly deleting tweets and criticized federal employees’ use of encrypted messaging platforms.

In a four-page letter sent to Trump counsel Donald McGahn on Wednesday, committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings expressed concern that federal employees are using encrypted messaging apps like Signal, Confide, and WhatsApp to exchange information, which they said could be very hard to track and preserve as federal records.

“Generally, strong encryption is the best defense against cyber breaches by outside actors, and can preserve the integrity of decision-making communications,” they wrote. “The need for data security, however, does not justify circumventing requirements established by federal record keeping and transparency laws.”

They also took issue with reports that say Trump is deleting tweets, which likely qualify as presidential records and therefore must be preserved. Federal law requires that the federal government preserve an official record of its actions to be made available to the public.

Trump uses two Twitter accounts: an official White House account previously used by Barack Obama as well as a personal account that predated the current presidency. They added the Obama administration added archiving technologies to its Twitter accounts to avoid such a problem.

“If those tweets were not archived it could pose a violation of the Presidential Records Act,” the leaders wrote.

Two government transparency laws require record-keeping by the executive branch and federal agencies. The Presidential Record Act requires any executive branch employee covered under the law, including the president and vice president, to copy official business conducted in a personal account to their government account within 20 days. Federal employees are also held to the same standard under the Federal Records Act.

Trump’s use of Twitter, due to his late-night posts and frequent attacks on the news media, has been a focal point since the Republican took office in January. The White House and personal Trump account have a combined 42 million followers.

Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Cummings, D-Md., asked McGahn to provide six pieces of information by March 22, including the names of any senior officials who have used a nonofficial email account for business since Trump took office; archiving procedures relating to business conducted on nonofficial email, text, message apps, and social media platforms; and a list of official messaging and social media platforms used to conduct official business.

They also asked for current procedures in place that ensure that official communications systems outside of email are properly secured and preserved as presidential records; detailed accounts of training of the Presidential Records Act provided to White House officials; and a description of the electronic system used by the White House to archive email and other records.

In the letter, the Oversight Committee members also cited the panel’s investigation into the George W. Bush administration, which found that White House officials were using Republican National Committee email accounts for official business, and destroyed roughly 22 million emails. Chaffetz and Cummings called this a “clear violation” of the Presidential Records Act.

In 2015 and 2016, the FBI also investigated former Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her use a private email server for official communication, which became a major storyline of the election and frequent criticism by Trump.

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Donald Trump, Elijah Cummings, House Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, transparency, White House
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