By Jan Wolfe and Makini Brice
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Democratic-led congressional committee voted on Thursday to authorise subpoenas for official White House communications sent through private email and messaging services by senior officials in President Donald Trump’s administration, deepening a probe into potential violations of government record-keeping laws.
The U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee voted 23-16 along party lines to allow its chairman, Elijah Cummings, to issue the subpoenas to White House officials including the Republican president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
“The Committee has obtained direct evidence that multiple high-level White House officials have been violating the Presidential Records Act by using personal email accounts, text messaging services, and even encrypted applications for official business – and not preserving those records in compliance with federal law,” Cummings said in a statement.
Cummings said the subpoena was necessary because the White House had not turned over a “single piece of paper” this year in response to requests made in his committee’s investigation.
Republicans at a committee hearing called the investigation politically motivated and unnecessary.
“This is getting into nothing but an attempt to go after the family of the president in an attempt to further go after the president himself,” Republican Representative Jody Hice said.
Representative Jim Jordan, the committee’s top Republican, said Democrats approved the subpoenas because congressional testimony on Wednesday by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to benefit Trump, was a “total bust.”
The committee’s investigation is one of several being pursued by House Democrats into the president and his administration.
Trump criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 election for her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Trump continues to refer to her emails in speeches and on Twitter.
Kushner’s communications, particularly with foreign leaders, have been under scrutiny since the 2016 campaign, and questions have been raised about how he obtained his security clearance.
CNN reported last year that Kushner communicated with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman via the WhatsApp messaging application owned by Facebook Inc.
In a March letter to Cummings, a lawyer for Kushner denied telling lawmakers that the senior adviser to the president had communicated through any app with foreign “leaders” or “officials” but said Kushner had used such apps for communicating with “some people,” who were not specified.
The Republican leaders of the oversight panel had also sought information in 2017 and 2018 on use of non-official messaging by Trump’s White House staff. Democrats took over the panel after winning control of the House in 2018 elections.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Makini Brice; Editing by Tom Brown and Will Dunham)