GOP faces charges of hypocrisy with Kushner emails

Republicans who lambasted Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' 10 things we learned from Peter Strzok's congressional testimony Get ready for summit with no agenda and calculated risks MORE over her use of a private email server are dealing with a thorny issue: the use of private email by Jared Kushner and other White House staff for official business.

Clinton herself has leveled charges of hypocrisy against the GOP and President Trump, who labeled her “Crooked Hillary” on the campaign trail as the FBI investigated her email setup. 

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Congressional Democrats have called for an investigation, with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, asking Kushner for information on his nongovernment accounts and private family domain. Cummings also demanded that Kushner preserve all official records in his possession. 

While there are differences between what Clinton did, and what Kushner and other White House staff are accused to have done, the similarities are easy to see. 

“This will cause Democrats to howl … given how much Republicans pushed this issue, with good reason,” said Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

The New York Times reported that at least six of President Trump’s closest advisers — among them former chief strategist Stephen Bannon and former chief of staff Reince Priebus — occasionally used personal email for official White House work in addition to Kushner.

There have been signs that Republicans can see the potential problem.

Oversight Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGowdy rules out Rosenstein impeachment Russians' indictment casts shadow ahead of Trump-Putin summit Gowdy: I don't think Mueller probe is a witch hunt MORE (R-S.C.), a central figure in the congressional GOP investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack, joined with Cummings in sending a letter to White House counsel Don McGahn late Monday asking for a list of noncareer officials at the White House who have used personal email to conduct official business. 

The letter highlighted the need for the staff to comply with federal records laws.

A Democratic aide told The Hill that Republican leadership declined to sign on to the Cummings letter to Kushner, but later asked the Democrats to join the letter to McGahn. Nearly identical letters were also sent to two dozen federal agencies.

A representative for Republican committee leadership described the letter as a "continuation" of the committee's investigation into compliance with federal record-keeping laws. The aide did not say whether the letter signaled any plans by Gowdy to investigate White House officials' use of private email.

Gowdy’s letter, which cites a story in Politico about Kushner’s email use, was couched as a follow-up to a March request about whether officials were using unofficial devices for official business — one that Cummings says was met with a denial by the White House.

Meanwhile, Gowdy has also launched an investigation into Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Mueller indicts 12 Russian officials for DNC hack | Trump does damage control after bombshell interview MORE for his use of private jets for air travel, another action suggesting the chairman wants to show a streak of independence.

Barring extremely damaging revelations from the emails, Heye said he doubted there would be hugely negative political repercussions for congressional Republicans. 

“Questions surrounding administration staff just do not become voting issues in congressional races. If it turns out to directly involve Trump, that could be a different issue,” he said, adding, “Those who chanted ‘lock her up’ may care the least.”

Another former GOP operative said if the GOP turns a blind eye to the emails from Kushner and other White House staff, it will just be another example of their hesitancy to criticize Trump. 

“I don’t think Republicans can look any more hypocritical than they already have, so I don’t think it really matters,” the former operative said. “Their entire caucus is a walking hypocritical mess.”

There are differences between Clinton’s use of email and the occasional use of personal email by Trump officials. For one, Clinton set up her own server in her Chappaqua, N.Y., home and exclusively used personal email for government business, while Kushner and others used their personal accounts alongside official White House accounts.

Kushner’s lawyer said that “fewer than a hundred emails from January through August” were sent to or received by Kushner’s private account to officials in the White House.

On Monday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described the use of private email accounts within the Trump White House as “very limited.” She declined to say whether the White House would commit to releasing Kushner’s work-related correspondence on his private account.

Still, Trump officials’ private email use could run counter to the rules of the Presidential Records Act, which mandates that all records related to the president’s activity be preserved.

“We’ve been dealing with these email problems since when I was in the Bush administration,” Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and vice chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It’s the same story with Clinton and with Kushner. We can play variations of the same theme.”

“The Clinton thing was blown just way out of proportion, but going forward we need to make clear people shouldn’t be doing this,” Painter said.