House Panel Investigates Kushner For Alleged Violations Of Record Laws
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Quick tutorial for those who don't stare at their phones all day - there is a messaging service called WhatsApp. You can use it to send text messages or photos or videos and a lot more. It's popular in much of the world. And apparently, WhatsApp users include Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser.
A House committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, asserts that Kushner has used WhatsApp for official business and failed to comply with federal record-keeping rules. Cummings also questioned the use of personal email by Ivanka Trump, and Kushner's email use has been questioned in the past, all of which brings to mind a famous chant.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTERS: (Chanting) Lock her up. Lock her up. Lock her up. Lock her up.
INSKEEP: Lock her up - a central campaign theme by President Trump and his supporters as they challenged Hillary Clinton over her use of an email server. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is on the line. Hi there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So why would this seeming detail of record-keeping rules be important? Isn't this - this is, basically, about accountability, right? Somebody ought to be able - like Elijah Cummings - wants to be able to go in after Kushner and see what he's been doing?
KEITH: Well, and it's the law - is the other part of it. The Presidential Records Act requires all of this to be kept for history and for other reasons. And this investigation is not some new thing that popped up when Elijah Cummings became chairman of the Oversight Committee when Democrats won the House. In fact, this goes all the way back to March of 2017, back when Republicans controlled the committee.
But there's still a lot of information that Elijah Cummings says that he needs to conduct the investigation. As part of it, he met with the personal lawyer for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. That lawyer is named Abbe Lowell. And he is citing - Cummings is citing the conversation with Abbe Lowell in saying that Jared Kushner has used, and continues to use, WhatsApp as part of his official White House duties.
In addition, this letter from Elijah Cummings to the White House says that Ivanka Trump hasn't stopped using her personal email account for official business. And it also alleges that Steve Bannon, a former adviser at the White House, and an early National Security Council deputy, K.T. McFarland, used personal email accounts, including an AOL account, to discuss a proposed transfer of U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. So there were a lot of allegations in this letter from Cummings to the White House.
INSKEEP: Wow. OK. The AOL account - that's a specific deal that's been discussed there. Let's circle back to Kushner, though. As best we can determine, who is it that Kushner has supposedly been communicating with on WhatsApp?
KEITH: Well, that is a very good question. And it depends on who you ask because what Elijah Cummings says is that Kushner's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, confirmed that Jared Kushner was communicating with world leaders and officials using WhatsApp. Well, Abbe Lowell - after this became public - put out a new letter saying, no, no, no, no. This is not accurate, and it's being misreported.
He said that when he was asked about Kushner's use of WhatsApp, that he directed the committee to the White House. And that when specifically asked about whether these communications were with foreign officials or leaders, that Abbe Lowell simply said that they were communications with some people.
INSKEEP: OK. So what we have is two different accounts of a private conversation. I guess we must not have testimony under oath on this question yet.
KEITH: We - and we also don't have documents in that case. And let me just say that, to me, what stood out the most from this Elijah Cummings letter yesterday was this line. He says the White House has not produced a single piece of paper to the committee in the 116th Congress in this or any other investigation.
INSKEEP: Wow. Tam, thanks so much.
KEITH: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith.
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