Betsy DeVos used her private email account for government work, internal probe finds

DeVos pulled a Hillary Clinton — that is, she used a private email account to conduct official government business

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 21, 2019 9:00AM (EDT)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Getty/Mark Wilson)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (Getty/Mark Wilson)

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was revealed to have committed the same mistake for which Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was lambasted during the 2016 election — using her private email account for government work.

The Department of Education's Office of Inspector General found "fewer than 100" emails linked to four of DeVos' personal accounts had appeared in the department's email systems, according to the Associated Press. The majority of those emails were sent in the first six months of 2017 and came from a single individual who was writing to recommend various candidates for agency jobs. Overall, the probe found six emails had been sent by DeVos on private accounts, five of which involved official agency business.

DeVos' office claimed that it was taking "additional steps to identify and preserve" the emails that came from her personal accounts, although the inspector general's office wrote that "we did not identify any instances where the secretary forwarded emails from her personal accounts to her department email accounts." It added, "The secretary’s emails related to government business were not always being properly preserved."

The Department of Education forbids employees from using their personal email accounts for government business unless their work accounts are unavailable — and, even then, they are required to forward their messages to their work accounts within 20 days, which DeVos never did.

During the 2016 race, the Trump campaign regularly attacked Clinton for using a personal email server for her work while she held the Cabinet-level post of secretary of state. Although the scale of Clinton's misuse of personal email far exceeded that of DeVos, the degree to which Clinton's offense was vilified by Republicans has made it so that any discovery of an email-based impropriety from Trump's orbit is likely to reopen old wounds.

One conspicuous example of this was Trump's daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump sending hundreds of emails from a personal account to other White House aides, Cabinet officials and personal assistants through much of 2017. A report in the Washington Post claimed that Trump was unaware of the details of some of the rules regulating government email use — or perhaps misunderstood them.

"While transitioning into government, after she was given an official account but until the White House provided her the same guidance they had given others who started before she did, Ms. Trump sometimes used her personal account, almost always for logistics and scheduling concerning her family," Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s attorney and ethics counsel Abbe Lowell, told The Washington Post in a statement at the time.

Republicans also rallied to Ivanka Trump's defense.

"When things like this come up, it’s important people understand — they need to make sure they’re doing what they can," Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., told CNN during an interview at the time. "And it’s awfully tough — as everyone knows — when you’re sending emails about a lot of different things to make sure that you’re doing it according to the rules in the White House or wherever you’re doing it."

He later said he still felt Clinton should be held to a different standard.

"I do think, of course, it’s very different to send private emails about matters that are not classified information. There’s a criminal penalty imposed for doing that — when you have classified information that is transmitted improperly, as was the allegation, and I think the facts now support — with regard to Hillary Clinton."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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