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With Ivanka Trump story, email use again becomes a political problem

House Democrats plan to investigate Ivanka Trump's use of a private email account for government communications. Did the president's daughter and senior adviser break the law? Judy Woodruff asks one of the reporters who broke the story, the Washington Post's Carol Leonnig, about how the emails were discovered, which rules Ivanka may have violated and similarities to Hillary Clinton's email issue.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first, Ivanka Trump says she didn't know it was against the rules to conduct government business through her personal e-mail, this after The Washington Post reported the president's daughter and adviser repeatedly used her personal account to conduct government business last year.

    Carol Leonnig is one of the reporters who broke the story.

    I spoke with her short time ago and began by asking when the personal e-mail took place.

  • Carol Leonnig:

    It's really interesting, Judy.

    What we learned was the White House review that was triggered in the fall found that she had been using it basically from the day her father was inaugurated, but she wasn't really covered by the rules until she officially joined the White House on March 30, but that personnel use of her e-mail for official business continued until they discovered it in the fall.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the fall of 2017?

  • Carol Leonnig:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And remind us how this was discovered.

  • Carol Leonnig:

    So, it was triggered by something fairly mundane and small, which was that a watchdog group was interested in her communications while she was sort of an unofficial employee, and they FOIAed, or made a public records request, for agency communications with her.

    You can't seek public records from the White House, but you can make a formal request from Cabinet-level agencies, and that's what they did. When that happened, as the agencies were gathering up the records that they needed to turn over, they realized that the president's daughter was using a personal e-mail account.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you wrote, hundreds of e-mails. And what were they about? What was she writing about and to whom was she writing?

  • Carol Leonnig:

    So, when they found out that she was using this personal e-mail with Cabinet-level officials, they started to dig a little deeper.

    And the White House and Ivanka Trump's lawyer discovered that she was communicating in three basic ways, one, to Cabinet-level officials before and after she was in an official role. Second, she was making a lot of scheduling and sort of logistic arrangements with a personal assistant, so she was writing on a personal e-mail all sorts of details about her public life to sort of keep her household manager and her child care manager in the loop about what she was doing.

    And then, finally, in the third group, she was talking to close confidantes inside the White House about official business, but using her personal e-mail.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Was this illegal?

  • Carol Leonnig:

    It violates the Presidential Records Act, an act that governs the White House and helps make sure that there's always an archive, a permanent record of every presidency.

    So, even though something as mundane as, "I'm going to Idaho tomorrow to talk about child care on behalf of my father, the president," even though that's fairly banal, it has to be stored, it has to be kept as a record. And she broke that rule quite a lot.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead.

    I was just going to say, as I understand your reporting, her response when she was asked about it was that she wasn't aware of the rules. And yet presumably she had been briefed?

  • Carol Leonnig:

    So she received a briefing a little late because she arrives later than the other members who are brought in after the inauguration.

    However, it's hard to imagine she didn't know anything about the personal e-mail use prohibitions. There is one wrinkle, which is, she wasn't getting — once they discovered in the fall of 2017 all these personal e-mails that violated the rules, she made the argument, look, I didn't know, I wasn't reminded.

    And it turned out that she wasn't getting regular all-staff reminders about prohibitions on personal e-mail use. Everybody in the White House got periodic reminders. For some weird reason, she wasn't on the all-staff list and wasn't getting those updates.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Of course, one of the reason, Carol Leonnig, this is getting so much attention today is that — is what President Trump had the say about Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server, thousands and thousands of e-mails.

    And today, we know when the president was asked about this, he said, oh, this is a very different case because his daughter wasn't dealing with classified information, he said, and he said she didn't destroy e-mails.

    So his contention, I guess, her contention is that it's not the same thing at all.

  • Carol Leonnig:

    I think I'm of mixed minds about that, Judy.

    On the one hand, I agree, based on the reporting we have so far, that this is different than the secretary of state at the time, Hillary Clinton, setting up a whole server and a completely separate e-mail system to never use her government account.

    So there is no evidence that Ivanka was doing that. However, the similarities are pretty striking. She was using private e-mail. She should have been on alert that she shouldn't do that. As well, she has a private attorney going through her e-mails, as Hillary Clinton did to help her decide what's personal, what's public.

    We haven't seen the personal e-mails, so you don't know what's gone, what might be business-related. You just can't know. And then, finally, we really — we don't know whether or not classified materials are discussed. Remember, Hillary Clinton also said there was no classified markings on her e-mails.

    It turned out that many of the things she discussed were classified. Did Ivanka Trump ever talk to a foreign official or discuss a foreign official on her personal e-mail? If she did, that could be a classified discussion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we know that the House Oversight Committee is going to be looking into this. Perhaps we will get more information about what was in those e-mails.

    Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post, thank you.

  • Carol Leonnig:

    Thank you, Judy.

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