Republicans Silent On Trump White House’s Use Of Private Communication

The same Republicans who were outraged over Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server are silent about the use of private apps by Trump officials.

During the 2016 campaign, Republicans correctly criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for using a private email server for official business. Now it turns out that Trump Administration officials at the center of the controversy over the President’s dealings with Ukraine were themselves using private, encrypted communications channels to discuss official business:

More than four years after a squad of House Republicans led a charge against then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her handling of sensitive diplomatic information, the State Department is once again under scrutiny for how diplomats use personal phones to conduct official business.

But some of those same House lawmakers are now on the opposite side of the controversy, playing defense for U.S. diplomats.

On Tuesday, lawmakers said that President Trump’s top envoys for Ukraine and the European Union used personal phones and an encrypted messenger app as they conducted U.S. policy on Ukraine, a matter that was revealed during House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

The most vocal defenders of the Trump administration’s actions include some of the most aggressive critics of Clinton’s handling of sensitive information, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R) of Ohio, Rep. Mark Meadows (R) of North Carolina and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who as a Kansas congressman had attacked Clinton by underscoring the solemn role of soldiers in defending U.S. secrets.

“We have soldiers today in the field, fighting to protect classified information from getting out . . . [risking] a lot of their lives to keep the information safe. And Secretary Clinton handled this in a very different way,” Pompeo told a television host in February 2016, adding that she had violated “multiple laws.”

On Tuesday, Meadows dismissed concerns about the communications of the two diplomats, Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland, saying their use of personal phones or encrypted apps was acceptable because they ultimately handed over their correspondence to the State Department.

“Based on what I’ve seen, I have no concerns,” he said in an intervie

Jordan and Meadows were responding to questions about their own consistency based on the fact that it had turned out that Volker and Sutherland were using the encrypted mobile messaging app WhatsApp to communicate about the Ukraine matter rather than using official State Department communications channels. This is essentially the same thing that Clinton was criticized (rightfully, in my opinion) during the runup to the 2016 election and which led to an FBI investigation that uncovered what was later characterized as “extremely careless” treatment of classified information.

Volker and Sondland aren’t the only Trump officials known to be using WhatsApp and other non-government applications to communicate with each other and with outsiders. It’s been widely reported in the past that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both Presidential advisers, regularly use the app for communication, and not just with each other. Kushner, for example, reportedly uses it to stay in frequent communication with Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and the murderer of Jamal Khashoggi, and other foreign contacts. This has reportedly raised serious concerns with cybersecurity experts in the nation’s intelligence community.

The hypocrisy here is, of course, quite apparent. After spending two years finding nothing but scandal in the fact that Hillary Clinton, with the permission of the Obama White House, used a private server for email, Republicans are saying nothing now that it has been revealed that Trump Administration officials are using a publicly available mobile app to communicate about sensitive and potentially classified information in violation of the Federal Records Act. Of course, this kind of hypocrisy has become par for the course during the Trump Administration.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. SenyorDave says:

    I’m sure the DOJ will take a long, hard look at this issue and conduct a thorough investigation.

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  2. Jim Brown 32 says:

    The Russian founder of Telgram is on record quipping that WhatsApp will never be secure. Trumps communications are not secure– this guy is an Amateur

    5
  3. Kathy says:

    By now you should be familiar with Kathy’s First and Most Important Law of Politics: it’s wrong only when the other party does it.

    But there’s a corollary: your most valuable assets are those people who can condemn policy or action X when the other party does it, and defend it when your party does it, with an approximately equal measure of zealotry.

    4
  4. DrDaveT says:

    Republicans correctly criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for using a private email server for official business

    There is a fascinating philosophical conundrum buried in that statement.

    If I believe that 2+2=4 because the voices in my head tell me so, am I ‘correct’?

    If I say that 2+2=4 only because I know you’ll give me a cookie if I do, is my statement ‘correct’?

    If I assert that 2+2=4 because doing so will damage Hillary Clinton’s election chances, but I don’t actually have a personal opinion about 2+2, is my statement ‘correct’?

    Great topic for a term paper in that senior-level Analytic Philosophy seminar…

    12
  5. Kit says:

    Upon being discovered, a hypocrite might become embarrassed, or try to rationalize his actions. What he doesn’t do is shrug his shoulders. Republicans are not hypocrites. They just believe that liberals are evil and should be destroyed by (nearly) any means. Defending traditional morality, from the Bible to the Enlightenment, passing through the Constitution and the law, and even nosing into today’s norms and beliefs, makes for great theater. And for Republicans that’s all it is. Now I don’t wish to tar them all with the same brush: Some are nihilists, while others pine for a neo-feudalism. Still, only the most simple-minded actually believe any of the accusations they hurl. How many have an opinion on how best to handle email servers? They don’t care. That’s not the point. How public servants communicate is important enough that anyone truly concerned about it should not muddy the waters with Republican talking points.

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  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Kit: Vert true. Hypocrisy is not relevant to people incapable of feeling embarrassment, much less shame.

    1
  7. Gustopher says:

    This is essentially the same thing that Clinton was criticized (rightfully, in my opinion) during the runup to the 2016 election and which led to an FBI investigation that uncovered what was later characterized as “extremely careless” treatment of classified information.

    Clinton was, for better or worse, following the common practice of ignoring that law. No one had ever had it become important. And records were being generally maintained, just in the wrong spot. And she generally tried to keep confidential stuff out of email (which is inherently insecure). And I do not recall Clinton emailing world leaders.

    The Trumpees know it’s wrong, since they helped change the norms there, plus they are using apps that don’t maintain a record, and they are not trying to keep confidential stuff in proper channels, and they are communicating with world leaders through this.

    This is not what Clinton did, this is orders of magnitude worse.

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  8. SKI says:

    During the 2016 campaign, Republicans correctly criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for using a private email server for official business.

    No. There may have been an appropriate criticism there but it wasn’t one the Republicans made.

    If their criticism had been correct, they wouldn’t have had to lie, repeatedly and consistently, about what she actually did.

    5
  9. Dave says:

    @SenyorDave:

    You forgot to use a sarcasm indicator…