Latest Update July 22, 2020

Court Rejects Trump Administration's Effort to End Probe into Sec. Wilbur Ross’ Use of Private Email for Government Business

After the Trump administration conceded that Secretary Ross failed to follow federal law on multiple occasions, the Court ruled it was unreasonable that the Commerce Department excluded Secretary Ross’ personal email account from its search for records. Now, the public will get a more complete picture of just how extensive Secretary Ross’ already substantial use of private email has been.

Learn More

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross used his personal email account to communicate with foreign officials, private citizens with interests before the Commerce Department, and white supremacist Charles “Chuck” Johnson. FOIA records revealed that, over the course of a year and a half, Ross used a private email account to send or receive hundreds of work-related emails. These emails have included:

The Federal Records Act requires all federal officers to copy or forward to their official account every government-related email they send from private email accounts. But after our FOIA lawsuit revealed Secretary Ross complied with the law only one-third of the time, the Commerce Department refused to search Ross’ personal email account for additional relevant records.

Unsurprisingly, Ross is currently under federal investigation by the National Archives and Records Administration for his use of personal email accounts. In opening its probe, NARA cited a September 2019 Washington Post profile of Ross that relied on records obtained via our lawsuit.

Because it was clear Secretary Ross had used private email to conduct agency business, we demanded a thorough search of Ross’ private email accounts. We filed suit on February 2nd, 2018. On July 22nd, 2020, the federal court ruled that the Department’s refusal to conduct a thorough search of Ross’ private emails was unjustified.

In the News

Don’t sleep on Wilbur Ross

The Washington Post / September 30, 2019
2017

We submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Commerce

Our request sought records of private email use for government business by Secretary Ross.

February 2018

We filed suit when the Dept. of Commerce failed to comply with its legal obligations

Learn More
October 2019

The National Archives and Records Administration launched an investigation into Ross’ private email accounts

In its letter, NARA specified records we obtained that were cited in the Washington Post.

Learn More
November 2019

We opposed the administration’s refusal to search Ross’ nongovernmental accounts

The Commerce Dept. dragged its feet in producing documents and refused to search private email accounts containing agency information in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Learn More
July 2020

The Federal Court rejected the Trump administration’s effort to shield Secretary Ross’ illicit use of personal email to conduct agency business

Federal court ruled that the Commerce Department was unjustified in refusing to search the private email account Secretary Wilbur Ross used for government work. This decision is a victory for transparency and accountability in government after Commerce dragged its feet for 2 years and unreasonably refused to comply with their Freedom of Information Act obligation to search the private accounts Sec. Ross used for agency work.

Learn More

Jeffrey Dubner

Managing Senior Counsel

Challenging unlawful executive branch actions through a wide range of legal strategies

Read the Bio

Cory Hansen

Legal Analyst

Focusing on banking, finance, labor, tax, and trade issues.

Read the Bio