Lock Them Up! Trump Staff Still Using Private Republican National Committee Email Accounts

from the well,-it's-bad-when-our-political-opponents-do-it... dept

Time to lock up Donald Trump? Or at least his staff?

Senior Trump administration staffers, including Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon, have active accounts on a Republican National Committee (RNC) email system, Newsweek has learned.

The system (rnchq.org) is the same one the George W. Bush administration was accused of using to evade transparency rules after claiming to have “lost” 22 million emails.

Seems like Trump might want to engage in a forced migration of staffers to official White House email accounts in the near future. Can’t have cries of “lock him up” being fired back at his administration — not after using Hillary Clinton’s email server as a campaign plank for so many months.

Sure, there’s nothing strictly illegal about utilizing a private email account while in office. But every bit of official business needs to be handled by official accounts. Government employees are required to forward any official emails to official accounts and to disclose any private accounts upon taking office.

Making frequent use of personal accounts is just bad optics. And, in the case of the RNC accounts, it’s also a possible security issue.

The RNC email system, according to U.S. intelligence, was hacked during the 2016 race.

And there’s insecurity on top of insecurity. A hacker spoke with CNN after discovering Trump and his administration are running several accounts — both Gmail and Twitter — without using the most basic of security settings: two-factor authentication. Correction: The hacker actually criticized their failure to use a security setting that requires password resets to be requested with an email or phone number. Twitter responded suggesting that two-factor authentication and additional security protocols are in place on White House accounts, but would not comment on these specific accounts.

WauchulaGhost says he found the likely email associated with Melania Trump’s handle within twenty minutes. He said the email associated with Vice President Mike Pence was easy to guess once you saw the redacted version: vi***************@gmail.com, which WauchulaGhost pieced together as vicepresident2017@gmail.com. It has since been changed, but the president and first lady’s email addresses remain the same. (And the VP account still doesn’t have the extra layer of security.)

And today, there are even more detailed reports, showing that the @POTUS account is secured with a gmail address.

Given the President’s ability to make markets move with a single tweet, leaving accounts like these unsecured is begging for catastrophe. The news that the VP and President are still using Gmail accounts is also a problem and not just because of the lack of two-factor authentication. It signals that the Trump Administration is planning to do some official business off the FOIA-able/archivable books. That third parties are disclosing these accounts suggests the administration is in no hurry to do so.

Trump’s staff may want to engage in some public disavowals of these personal email accounts, especially considering all the noise the campaign made about Hillary Clinton’s private email server, its security issues, and the dubious legality of routing classified documents through unsecured servers.

If not, well… that will be completely unsurprising. Not that Trump won’t hold himself and his staffers to the same standard he held Clinton, but because politicians are a mostly-hypocritical bunch who like to point fingers at everyone but themselves.

That’s why we tend to steer clear of partisan arguments here at Techdirt. This isn’t a post about Trump being more wrong than Hillary Clinton. They’re both wrong. Trump’s staff has a chance to head this off before it becomes a weapon to be wielded against his re-election campaign. If his administration doesn’t distance itself from private email accounts, it will make Trump no better or worse than those that have come before him. Unfortunately, that will just make him the same as everyone else. And that’s not what he ran on. And that’s not what his backers want to see.

But it’s incredibly tempting to keep communications out of the public’s hands for as long as possible (if not forever) by routing work emails through private accounts. There are statutes and regulations to guard against this, but they’re mostly toothless. So, it’s up to each politician to determine their personal level of integrity. Many have opted for deliberate opacity, preferring their own secrecy to their obligations to the public that elected them. Will Trump be any better? Or will his staffers find a way to rationalize away their hypocritical stance on private email accounts? According to the statutes they must comply with, we’ll know the answer in a couple of weeks.

Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a Washington-based government watchdog that requests and collects classified information, sued the Bush administration (along with CREW) over the RNC server and lost emails, and is still waiting to see what was in them. “If senior aides to President Trump were using private RNC servers on the afternoon after the inauguration, they have about 16 days to copy them into the official White House systems. If not, not they are in violation of the law,” he says.

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Comments on “Lock Them Up! Trump Staff Still Using Private Republican National Committee Email Accounts”

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nerd bert (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nah, all politicians are the devils….

If we could actually trust them to create a true Chinese Wall between their public and private emails, I’d be fine with them having two accounts. The problem arises when you have to trust someone like Clinton who turned over all her emails except her “yoga lessons and wedding plans.” Right… 35K plans and yoga appointments… You interested in this Cloth-or-Something I’ve got for sale?

If you trust any salesman you deserve what you get, and politicians are salesmen at their core.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Says who? You do know that it’s a old Android phone!!! Do you really think Trump wouldn’t own a much newer phone?

Going by Obama and the old Phone he was given, calling it a Kids phone because he could do much with it, who’s to say the phone Trump is using is also a phone given to him by the Secret Service also with limited Capabilities, more then likely running some Modified version of Android and missing the Camera and other limitations.

I think what I’m saying holds more water, then your blind Trump hate.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Says who? You do know that it’s a old Android phone!!! Do you really think Trump wouldn’t own a much newer phone?

Says the NY Times

Says Android Central

Says Nicholas Weaver

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s actually government obscurity hate. Actually, let’s call it what it really is: anti-transparency hate. The problem is not who did it or what they did as much as the accountability-dodging.

The government is our servant, not our master, and it needs to remember that. We should make them remember. Use writetothem.com to find your reps and ask them to challenge Trump about this. Hillary’s gone; I’d have said the same about her.

Anonymous Coward says:

O boy, you know were about to get the same ardent defense of Trump and staffers here in the comments, for using private email accounts/servers, as we did with Hillary! It’s usually done by parading a medley of other politicians that did the exact same thing? Rice! Jeb! Powell! Hillary! I’m betting we’ll see all the typical characters…. I know it’s coming! Wait for it…. waaaaaaaitt for it……..

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes we CAN!!!

“Can’t have cries of “lock him up” being fired back at his administration — not after using Hillary Clinton’s email server as a campaign plank for so many months.”

Hillary should be in jail already, and if Trump likes to run his mouth, his ass needs a sling too! If they cannot take security seriously why in the fuck do my fellow citizens have to get fucked over by every little OMG National Security bullshit they keep pulling?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yes we CAN!!!

It’s not the running the private service that was at issue with Hillary. It was the Top secret documents she was getting on that server. A server with completely piss poor security that Got hacked.

Worse then even that, the Deleting of Thousands of e-mails, on her own word that they were private and not government related, which also turned out to be a lie.

I’m all for everyone in the Trump camp to get onto the Government servers. The sooner the better.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Yes we CAN!!!

A server with completely piss poor security that Got hacked.

https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/statement-by-fbi-director-james-b-comey-on-the-investigation-of-secretary-hillary-clinton2019s-use-of-a-personal-e-mail-system :

With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, we did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Yes we CAN!!!

A server with completely piss poor security that Got hacked.

That isn’t what the FBI said, and if you look at the configs for the server that were posted by it’s administrator in Reddit asking for advice, you’ll see that the mail service was not insecurely configured, and in a thread, that shell access was restricted to a DMZ set of IP addresses with PAM turned off (meaning you’d need a 4K SSh key to get authorized.)

That isn’t all that insecure.

Further, there are email headers which are supposed to be set if the contents were classified. None of the emails were sent with that header – which is the responsibility of the server sending them, not the one receiving them. Next, none of the documents found on the server were "Top Secret" at the time they were received, the classification was "Confidential" at best, which is the lowest available.

Additionally, think about what kinds of confidential information is sent to the State Department. Hint: It’s NOT OPSEC.

I am god awful tired of people that have not one iota of an idea trying to make this sound like the nuclear launch codes were compromised. Last, your guy won. Using lies, deceit, and pandering to the base, but hey, he won. So go out, have a $BEVERAGE_OF_CHOICE, and enjoy your victory. Let those of us on Planet Consensus Reality mope in our beer in peace.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Yes we CAN!!!

**Nothing in this post should be construed as support for the current POTUS.

Your first point may be correct, but you are ignoring the multiple times the admin shut down the email server because of attacks coming in. There’s no evidence that the server was hacked, but who’s to say that the admin caught these in time, or caught every attempt?

Second, classification markings do not make something classified. The lack of classification markings do not make it unclassified, or excuse mishandling of it. The fact that they weren’t marked properly indicates that Secretary Clinton was not enforcing appropriate classification handling procedures within her department, or across to other agencies.

Your third point is incorrect; some of the material was marked classified when it was sent.

Additionally, proper handling procedures also include ways to mitigate spillage, for things that were improperly marked, not marked, or retroactively upgraded. Secretary Clinton, as head of the State Dept was not enforcing appropriate mitigation procedures for spillage within her department. In fact, she was supposed to undergo and enforce annual training on the handling of classified material, which apparently did not happen, at least not for her.

I’m not trying to say that she deserves to be locked up, but there were major failings in the way she allowed classified information to be handled at State during her tenure there.

Finally, her actions and her response to the accusations demonstrated that she believed she was above these laws – she did it, then provided multiple alternative facts about it for months until one by one they were shown to be false. Comey’s mention of “intent” when making his decision is completely irrelevant – he called it “extremely careless” which is a very fine line from “gross negligence,” the actual legal standard. That subtle distinction (that was left unexplained) and the injection of “intent” further solidified the view that she received special consideration because she was Hillary Clinton.

When it comes down to it, Hillary Clinton was either careless, incompetent, or intentional in her mishandling of classified information and federal records. None of these are tolerable.

Again, I am not happy with the results of the election; I wish that either of the two parties could have given me someone to vote for, but spillage of classified information and apparent attempts to avoid the Federal Records Act should be a big deal. This is not a partisan matter – I am waiting for someone in the new administration to tweet something classified, and I hope it gets investigated fully. I hope that this issue of using RNC servers gets stomped out quickly, or investigated properly, though I have no real hope for that either.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If you gauge things by the rapid fire OMG TRUMP stories on this site, and the pile on commenters rapidly nodding in agreement in unison, we won’t make it to a month. He’s going to have taken all our rights, locked us up, and be sitting at the top of Trump tower eating cheese the same color as his hair in less than a week!!… :/

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Anonymous Coward wrote:

If you gauge things by the rapid fire OMG TRUMP stories on this site, and the pile on commenters rapidly nodding in agreement in unison, we won’t make it to a month

If you gauge things by what Trump has said and done in the week since he became president (and his entire adult life prior to that) and the utter spinelessness shown by Congress in response, the stories and commenters are right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Funny how when it was Hillary doing it, you had a parade of people going to great depths in explaining how other politicians had done it before her. I remember classics like, Jeb… Rice….Powell… all paraded by with the zomg! .. they did it first, surely it’s ok for Hillary!!. Now? Not so much?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“A call for consistent criticism rather than none”

Exactly my point. Perhaps I picked the wrong comment to bring it up, but I was expecting to see the same people parading the same tired politicians out in defense of Trump that were paraded out in hundreds of comments in defense of Hillary. Not really happening is it?

We shoved the hope and change right down the throats of millions of Americans. We called them bigots, racists, homophobes, xenophobes, islamaphobes, and in return they handed us a giant fuck you in the form of a yellow headed ass clown that’s going to give us that fundamental change we’ve been preaching about for 8 years. It’s not going to be the change we wanted, but it will damn sure be some change. The next time we decide to shit all over half the country and expect to win an election, someone post some common sense in the comments section. (As if we would listen)/

Now all were left with are hit pieces and self riotous indignation. We are about to get the Government we deserve.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

We called them bigots, racists, homophobes, xenophobes, islamaphobes,

"I’m tired of being called a racist so I’ll become a racist just to show them" is ridiculous. And, translated, it means, "I was a racist all along, I’m just used to people being too afraid to mention it."

Stop making excuses for Trump voters. They’re adults, they’re capable of reason, they knew he was, and they voted for him anyway. They put us in this mess.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

No. Translated, that is not what it means. You completely missed the point. The are not, nor were the bulk of them ever, any of those things. We took the minority, and smeared that label across the majority. Did so with vigor. Until we pissed them off to the point the would put a Trump in office. With that stage set, we let Hillary lie and scandal her way to the candidacy. Then, it what seemed like the perfect trifecta, the clown lands on a slogan (Just like Obama) that he rode all the way to the White House.

“They put us in this mess.”

No; America did this to herself. You need to own this shit just like the rest of us.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Funny how when it was Hillary doing it, you had a parade of people going to great depths in explaining how other politicians had done it before her. I remember classics like, Jeb… Rice….Powell… all paraded by with the zomg!

And given the responses, you’d think those tards doing it now would’ve learned something…right?

Were you wrong then, or are you wrong now?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

A friend of mine works for the government. Yesterday POTUS Trump put out a freeze on promotions, which they were scheduled to get. Today, the mortgage holder called and said absent increased pay within 30 days, they would proceed with getting ready to file foreclosure papers. No, they are not behind on payments, but like a lot of folks, their mortgage is adjustable rate, and -oh look!- inflation is going up, resetting the rates.

Sounds like to me that mortgage holder was just waiting for this to happen.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Silly AC! Property ownership is not for plebs like us. That would be why the mortgage holder is just waiting for this to happen.

It’s happening here, too. They’re making it harder for anyone in the lower-middle income bracket to own their home. Meanwhile, wealthy rentiers are snatching up property to rent them out at ever-higher rates. Even the Bank of England has stated that we’ve got “structural problems” in the housing market, i.e. the game is rigged. Mention social housing, though, to introduce much-needed competition and watch the fur fly! We really need to stop letting partisans do our thinking for us. Too many of us do.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Stupid is one thing. Pretending not to remember a thing that your entire campaign was based around is an entirely different one. (See also Giuliani’s repeated statement that there were no terrorist attacks on US soil during the Bush Administration. Obviously Rudy Giuliani, of all people, know that this is not true.)

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think the claim is that claiming that they’re “using private email accounts for work related things” is premature, given the short time elapsed so far – i.e., that they haven’t had time to transition to non-private accounts yet, and that it’s not reasonable to ding someone during the transition period for not having finished the transition. (With the assumption apparently being that the transition period didn’t begin until Inauguration Day, rather than beginning the day after Election Day.)

I’m not at all sure whether that claim holds water, either in terms of what their actions so far show about intent (or lack thereof) to switch away from the private accounts or in terms of whether the transition period is still ongoing, but it’s at least not entirely illogical on its face.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Given how much time Team Trump apparently spent hammering Clinton for using private email for work related stuff they should have been prepping the transfer immediately after they learned that he’d won, as a clear statement that they wouldn’t ever do something like that if nothing else.

You don’t constantly go on and on about something your opponent has done/is doing and leave yourself open to the same accusations if you can at all avoid it, that’s beyond stupid, and they’ve no-one to blame but themselves if people point out that for all the concern shown about the other side using private email accounts for things they should have been using government accounts for, they are still using private email accounts rather than government ones, even if they are keeping work and private matters separate.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I imagine the reasoning is based on the assumption that they didn’t get access to the relevant systems, to be able to start creating the relevant accounts, until Inauguration Day – because before that point, Obama was still President, so those systems were still under his authority.

That assumption makes a certain amount of sense on a superficial level, but gets considerably shakier once you dig beneath the surface and start looking at practicalities rather than partisanship and abstracts.

tom (profile) says:

If Trump wants to get in front of this, he will work with Congress to create a unified government policy on getting newly elected/appointed officials set up with appropriate computerized communications accounts BEFORE they take office. Setting up should also include training on the proper use of such systems and when such use is required. Leaving it up to each official or agency just begs for multiple security failures.

My guess is with the current system, most of the new folks will get their “Welcome to Federal Government New Employee Orientation” training sometime during the Summer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m all for this. Though Hillary got the whole Classified Briefing topic and then later said she forgot. I do think something needs to be done to make things quicker to get new people into the system before hand as much as possible. Where you can flip a switch or whatever on day one and it’s working for all the new people.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

That would be reasonable and sensible, Tom.

Ha ha ha ha ha!! Damn, I almost believed it would happen under this administration. Anyone who challenges the status quo gets booted. You have to kiss up to keep your job, so forget it. Please be sure to rub my face in this if I’m proven wrong at any point. I’ve already been proven wrong about walking back the wall and the Muslim ban.

Anonymous Coward says:

C'mon people!

We all setup new users with a whole lot less than two months notice ! How hard could it be to make sure all these people were on secure systems? And you even have advance notice of who most of them are, for cryin’ out loud. I suspect that, if they are using private (i.e. non-governmental) email servers, it is by preference, not necessity.

streetlight (profile) says:

Non Government Tech & Transfer to Foreign Torture

1- I thought there was a big brouhaha about a cabinet officer using a non government email server during the recent political campaign. Actually, I haven’t heard it wasn’t secure as I never heard any emails were captured by folks who shouldn’t have gotten them. My guess that server was more secure than the government server which might have been about as secure as a colander at holding water.

2- A bit off topic, but now we hear about the possibility of the CIA re instituting foreign torture chambers because “torture works.” Works at what? All this reminds me of a situation that occurred in a foreign place beginning in 1933. Individuals in the US might not want to use secure communications or data storage because that means one might have something to hide and the government might want to find out what that is and assume, since torture works, find out what it was you want to hide.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is pathetic. They would be violating the law to use their official email for non-government business. So they have to have a non-government email to conduct non-government business.

There is no evidence that they are using the non-government emails to conduct government business, which is what Hillary was doing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There is no evidence that they are using the non-government emails to conduct government business

>the @POTUS account is secured with a gmail address.

Anon. The @POTUS account is the official government one. If they can’t even do something as simple and minor as registering the official white house Twitter account to a white house email, you really think they’re more careful about other government business?

Stewart Obvious says:

Republicans Stiff Upper Lip Botox and a pair of Horse teeth

Ever notice that many Republicans use Botox and way too much of it? The Botox stifles their sudden unintended facial expressions that they cannot control enough to hide naturally like when they are lying through their teeth about healthcare or some urban renewal policy for example which is obviously intended to hurt people and not help them.
this whole upper lip is a sick cult like addiction by these antisocial pigs. Pay attention next time you see any of these sicko republicans. Look at that upper lip and you’ll see it. Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, and that little weasel looking Gollum wannabe Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He apparently has so much Botox surging through his face that he can’t even move his upper lip. Or maybe it’s just numb from being out in the night air lynching negros he runs into on a dirt road near the plantation. Then on the other extreme you have the very confused Nikki Haley whose dental overlays are poorly chosen and look like she bought them from Mr. Ed the talking horse. And watch her and you’ll see she doesn’t hide her upper teeth at all! Quite the contrary, she’s proud of those babies! All Trump could have one of his Playboy Bunny pals to lend her a pair of their bunny ears and she can be the Easter Bunny at the Whitehouse Easter egg Hunt!

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