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: email@example.com, which WauchulaGhost pieced together as firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.