After what felt like years of hammering Hillary Clinton for failing to adhere to federal email transparency policies, you might think politicians would take pains not to make the same mistake. But now, the White House has been accused of just that.
This morning, the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed suit against President Donald Trump for violations of three separate federal records laws, including the automatic deletion of internal emails. In each case, the effect of the violations would be to place internal communications outside the reach of public transparency measures like the Freedom of Information Act — exactly what politicians spent an entire campaign season arguing about.
The complaint offers no hard evidence that the president has violated retention laws, but there has been significant third-party reporting suggesting some communications may have been deleted. In March, MSNBC reported that Trump aides were “wiping their electronic devices” to destroy evidence that could be used against them in the Russia probe. Other reports alleged that early executive orders on immigration were drafted to leave as little record as possible. The practice of deleting presidential tweets has also come under fire, prompting a congressional inquiry earlier this year.
The complaint particularly cites self-destructing messaging applications as a violation of presidential responsibilities. “From early on in this Administration,” the complaint alleges, “White House staff have used... certain email messaging applications that destroy the contents of messages as soon as they are read, without regard to whether the messages are presidential records.”
None of this brings up the same cybersecurity issues as maintaining a private email server, but the core of it — going outside the system so people can’t catch you doing anything embarrassing — is exactly the same. It’s hard to say if the lawsuit will go anywhere. With both the health care repeal and Russia investigation plowing forward, it’s unlikely to be anyone’s top priority. Still, there’s something unbelievable about the whole scenario. I honestly thought we were ready to stop talking about emails. But maybe we’ll never be done. Maybe we’ll just go on and on forever.