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Private email use has been widespread in Trump's White House

Either government-mandated email protocols are an issue of endless significance or they're not.
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. 

There's something inherently challenging about the basics of the Trump White House's email controversy. On the one hand, email server protocols are neither interesting nor important.

On the other hand, the people who were apoplectic about these email rules in 2015 and 2016 are the same people who've broken the rules in 2017. The New York Times  reported overnight that "at least six" of Donald Trump top advisers have relied on private email accounts to conduct official White House business.

The disclosures came a day after news surfaced that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and adviser, used a private email account to send or receive about 100 work-related emails during the administration's first seven months. But Mr. Kushner was not alone. Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist, and Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, also occasionally used private email addresses. Other advisers, including Gary D. Cohn and Stephen Miller, sent or received at least a few emails on personal accounts, officials said.Ivanka Trump, the president's elder daughter, who is married to Mr. Kushner, used a private account when she acted as an unpaid adviser in the first months of the administration, Newsweek reported Monday. Administration officials acknowledged that she also occasionally did so when she formally became a White House adviser.

Politico, meanwhile, reports that over the summer, then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus tried to tamp down on "rampant use of personal communications devices for official business," but his orders were ignored. The article added, "Aides laughed about Priebus' request, and senior officials -- including Priebus -- continued to use their personal phones for phone calls, text messages and emails for White House matters."

There are three relevant angles to this. The first and most obvious is that Trump World is aware of a rule that it has no interest in following. We can certainly debate the seriousness of the transgressions -- with this gang, there's no shortage of more shocking scandals -- but there's no good excuse for top members of Team Trump simply pretending the rules don't apply to them, even if the underlying concern is relatively trivial.

The second angle is one of the most brazen examples of political hypocrisy I've ever seen. Donald Trump and his lieutenants just spent two years peddling hysterical rhetoric about incarcerating Hillary Clinton for having used a private email account to conduct official business. And yet, almost immediately after taking office, the president's new team proceeded to adopt the same practice they considered so outrageous.

It's not like Trump's top aides can credibly claim ignorance: they're the ones who said they were disgusted by this.

As the Washington Post's Paul Waldman added yesterday, this same argument applies equally well to the media professionals who spent two years telling American voters that Clinton's email practices were the single most important issue facing the nation.

The political world is going to have to collectively make up its mind: either government-mandated email protocols are an issue of immense significance or they're not. If the conclusion is, it only matters when applied to a Democratic cabinet member, but not a Republican White House, then it's time we all acknowledge how painfully misguided much of the 2016 coverage was.

All of which leads us to the third element of this: what happens now. The Washington Post  reported yesterday afternoon:

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee and its top Democrat asked the Trump administration Monday for more information about the use of personal email accounts by senior officials -- a day after it was revealed that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, acknowledged using such an account for official business.The letters, sent from Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to White House counsel Don McGahn and the leaders of two dozen federal departments and agencies, demand answers to inquiries about the use of nonofficial email and other messaging accounts to conduct official business. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, also joined the request.

This same GOP-led committee expressed vigorous interest with Clinton's email practices, which apparently made it difficult for Gowdy to brush the issue aside as irrelevant.