After FOIA Lawsuit Exposed Ross’ Private Email Use for Government Work, Administration Now Refuses to Search Accounts

Ross Under Federal Investigation for Email Use; Commerce Faces Deadline to Respond

Washington, D.C.—Democracy Forward filed an opposition to the Trump administration’s effort to suppress further evidence of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ illicit use of private email for government business. Yesterday’s filing included a motion asking a federal court to order the Trump administration to search Secretary Ross’ private email accounts after Democracy Forward found hundreds of government-related emails Secretary Ross received or sent from private accounts, including dozens of emails from foreign officials and private citizens with interests before the Commerce Department.

Federal law requires all federal officers to copy or forward to their official account every government-related email they send from private email accounts. The documents produced to date show that Secretary Ross complied with that law only approximately one-third of the time. Secretary Ross is now under federal investigation by the National Archives and Records Administration for his concerning use of personal email accounts. In opening its probe, NARA cited a September 30, 2019 Washington Post profile of Secretary Ross that relied in part on records obtained via Democracy Forward’s lawsuit.

The Trump administration asserts — without actually searching Ross’ nongovernment email accounts —  that it has provided all instances of Ross’ use of a nongovernment email account, but as the filing states, “this assertion is not supported by any evidence…; it is bare, self-serving speculation.”

“Secretary Ross repeatedly violated the law by conducting agency business outside his government email account, and the Trump administration’s only response has been to deny, delay, and deflect,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Jeffrey Dubner. “We look forward to proving in court that the administration has failed to comply with FOIA, and to discovering just how extensive Secretary Ross’ use of private email has been.”

Secretary Ross is also the focus of a separate lawsuit regarding evidence of his potential political interference at NOAA.

Democracy Forward’s combined motion for summary judgment and opposition to the administration’s motion for summary judgment was filed November 6, 2019 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.


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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.