Democracy Forward FOIA Suit Revealed Ross Used Private Email to Send and Receive Hundreds of Work-Related Emails in Violation of Federal Law

Trump’s Commerce Dept. Admitted Ross Broke the Law — Now, Some Records May Not Be in Government Possession

Washington, D.C. — Today, Democracy Forward sent a letter to the Chief Records Officer at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) offering supplemental evidence for NARA’s pending investigation into former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s illicit use of private email to conduct government business. A search of Ross’s private email account conducted in response to litigation brought by Democracy Forward revealed hundreds of additional government records that may escape archival by NARA, as federal law requires.

Find the full trove of emails revealed in Democracy Forward’s investigation here

In October 2019, NARA launched an investigation into Ross’s use of private email for government business after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, filed by Democracy Forward, revealed that Ross had used his personal email account for Commerce Department work.

In response, Trump’s Commerce Department informed NARA that it did not believe there had been any unauthorized disposition of Ross’s government records because the private emails revealed publicly had all reached Commerce’s servers.

But, in the course of its recently concluded FOIA litigation, Democracy Forward obtained a number of emails sent by Ross from his private account without complying with the Federal Records Act. In fact, in August 2020, the Trump administration conceded in court that Ross broke federal recordkeeping law and that “there are some e-mails created by the Secretary on his personal account that were not copied to his own [government] account.”

A federal judge concluded that Commerce’s refusal to search Ross’s nongovernmental email account in response to Democracy Forward’s FOIA request had been unreasonable, and ordered the Commerce Department to conduct that search. The new search unearthed approximately 590 pages of additional private emails.

In today’s letter, Democracy Forward recommended that NARA consider taking steps to ensure all agency records in Ross’s private email account are located and preserved, as Ross’s private email account may contain additional government records that could be located with further searches and would be lost otherwise.

Democracy Forward’s FOIA investigation revealed that, over the course of a year and a half, Ross used private email accounts to send or receive hundreds of work-related emails, which featured:

 

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Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.

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