WASHINGTON — Ivanka Trump sent hundreds of emails last year to White House aides, Cabinet officials and her assistants using a personal account, many of them in violation of federal records rules, according to people familiar with a White House examination of her correspondence.
White House ethics officials learned of Trump’s repeated use of personal email when reviewing emails gathered last fall by five Cabinet agencies to respond to a public records lawsuit. That review revealed that throughout much of 2017, she often discussed or relayed official White House business using a private email account with a domain that she shares with her husband, Jared Kushner.
The discovery alarmed some advisers to President Trump, who feared that his daughter’s practices bore similarities to the personal email use of Hillary Clinton, an issue he made a focus of his 2016 campaign. Trump attacked his Democratic challenger as untrustworthy and dubbed her “Crooked Hillary” for using a personal email account as secretary of state.
Some aides were startled by the volume of Ivanka Trump’s personal emails — and taken aback by her response when questioned about the practice. Trump said she was not familiar with some details of the rules, according to people with knowledge of her reaction.
The White House referred requests for comment to Ivanka Trump’s attorney and ethics counsel, Abbe Lowell.
In a statement, Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Lowell, acknowledged that the president’s daughter occasionally used her private email before she was briefed on the rules, but he said none of her messages contained classified information.
“While transitioning into government, after she was given an official account but until the White House provided her the same guidance they had given others who started before she did, Ms. Trump sometimes used her personal account, almost always for logistics and scheduling concerning her family,” he said in a statement.
Mirijanian said Ivanka Trump turned over all her government-related emails months ago so they could be stored permanently with other White House records.
And he stressed that her email use was different than that of Clinton, who had a private email server in the basement of her home in Chappaqua, New York. At one point, an archive of thousands of Clinton’s emails was deleted by a computer specialist amid a congressional investigation.
“Ms. Trump did not create a private server in her house or office, no classified information was ever included, the account was never transferred at Trump Organization, and no emails were ever deleted,” Mirijanian said.
Like Trump, Clinton also said she was unaware of or misunderstood the rules. However, Clinton relied solely on a private email system as secretary of state, bypassing government servers entirely.
Both Trump and Clinton relied on their personal attorneys to review their private emails and determine which messages should be retained as government records.
Clinton originally said none of the messages she sent or received were “marked classified.” The FBI later determined that 110 emails contained classified information at the time they were sent or received.
Austin Evers, executive director of the liberal watchdog group American Oversight, whose record requests sparked the White House discovery, said it strained credulity that Trump’s daughter did not know that government officials should not use private emails for official business.
“There’s the obvious hypocrisy that her father ran on the misuse of personal email as a central tenet of his campaign,” Evers said. “There is no reasonable suggestion that she didn’t know better. Clearly everyone joining the Trump administration should have been on high alert about personal email use.”
Ivanka Trump and her husband set up personal emails with the domain “ijkfamily.com” through a Microsoft system in December 2016, as they were preparing to move to Washington so Kushner could join the White House, according to people familiar with the arrangement.
The couple’s emails are prescreened by the Trump Organization for security problems such as viruses but are stored by Microsoft, the people said.
Trump used her personal account to discuss government policies and official business less than 100 times — often replying to other administration officials who contacted her through her private email, according to people familiar with the review.
Another category of less-substantive emails may have also violated the records law: hundreds of messages related to her official work schedule and travel details that she sent herself and personal assistants who cared for her children and house, they said.
People close to Ivanka Trump said she never intended to use her private email to shroud her government work.
After she told White House lawyers she was unaware that she was breaking any email rules, they discovered that she had not been receiving White House updates and reminders to all staff about prohibited use of private email, according to people familiar with the situation.
Using personal emails for government business could violate the Presidential Records Act, which requires that all official White House communications and records be preserved as a permanent archive of each administration. It can also increase the risk that sensitive government information could be mishandled or hacked, revealing government secrets and risking harm to diplomatic relations and secret operations.
Revelations about Clinton’s personal email system led to an FBI investigation of whether she had mishandled classified information. The scandal shadowed Clinton throughout the 2016 White House race, culminating in then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s controversial decision to hold a news conference a few months before the election to announce his conclusion that she had been reckless with government secrets but that there was not sufficient evidence she had intended to skirt the la w.
During the campaign, Donald Trump said the Democratic nominee’s “corruption is on a scale we have never seen before” and called her personal email use “bigger than Watergate.”
Trump supporters still chant “Lock her up!” at his rallies, and the president, nearly two years into his administration, continues to tweet about Clinton’s emails.