News has emerged that senior White House staff working for the Republican Party have been hacked from a private server (rnchq.org). During the presidential race, Donald Trump was highly critical of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. At times, Trump claimed not only that Clinton was unfit for the Presidency, but that she should be imprisoned because of her illegitimate use of her home’s private server. Now, it would appear that Republican Party staff were also hacked from a private server during the elections.
According to the reports, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Jared Kushner all suffered loss of emails from a private server used by the Republican National Committee (RNC). Luckily for the Republicans in question, those emails were never released – drawing renewed questions over who might have perpetrated the hacks.
As we all know (because of the Clinton debacle), private email servers are not as secure as official .gov accounts. For that reason, government workers are supposed to keep all work-related emails on those accounts. However, the reality is that it is legal for White House staff to send some emails via a private server.
The Hatch Act, for example, restricts executive branch employees from carrying out certain political activities on government time. As such, communicating about a reelection campaign would be expected to be kept off official .gov channels.
As such, it remains possible that there could be a vast difference between the type of emails that were hacked from the RNC’s server and those taken from (then Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton. It is known that the emails taken from Clinton’s personal server (located in her home’s basement) contained state business that was supposed to be kept on her .gov account.
RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney has come forward to explain that to his knowledge everything was done correctly by RNC employees:
“There is nothing wrong with having an RNC account if it is not used for any official government business. In this case, the officials previously employed by the Trump campaign never had functional email accounts with the RNC. The RNC has various distribution lists to communicate with state parties or campaigns, and as a byproduct these contact groups are assigned RNCHQ.org addresses that only forward to external accounts at their respective organizations.”
Despite this, Richard Painter (an attorney who worked for the former Bush administration) says that the Trump administration may need to water down the severity of its tone towards Clinton:
“They better be careful after making such a huge ruckus over the private email over at the State Department.”
Painter’s point may be valid if any proof emerges to condemn RNC employees. As of yet, however, no evidence has emerged that the emails taken from the RNC were in any way likely to cause reprimands.
What is perhaps slightly damning, is that the hacked emails were taken from a private server that has been in the news before (for unsavory reasons). rnchq.org is the server that the George W Bush administration was accused of using to get around transparency rules when it “lost” 22 million emails. This of itself proves nothing, but it certainly does raise an eyebrow.
Admittedly, these revelations do not directly implicate the new President, who may well have known nothing about the RNC private email server. After all, Trump is an extremely non-political president. However, it is also true that the pressure is on the president to do more about cybersecurity – and this news will undoubtedly make tongues wag.
Cybersecurity Executive Order Postponed
Last week, Trump postponed the signing of a cybersecurity executive order, which – considering how many he has signed in a short space of time – does seem intriguing. During the meeting (at which the President was supposed to sign the executive order), Trump said that he would be putting more emphasis on expecting government officials to take responsibility for their departments. No one could deny that (after the Office of Personnel Management hack in 2015, for example) this is an area that has to be a priority.
One can’t help wondering, however, if the logistics of the job might be something that Trump doesn’t fully comprehend (yet). During the meeting, it was mentioned more than once that a stronger cooperation between corporate entities and the government was essential. In addition, there was mention of working closely with Israel (an ally known for its cybersecurity prowess).
Digital Privacy and Net Neutrality Concerns
Trump is the president who promises things, and since he came to office he appears to be attempting to stick to those promises. The question of whether he can deliver on cybersecurity is very much on the digital privacy advocate’s mind, especially considering how Trump feels about net neutrality. What’s more, reports have emerged that despite being issued with a highly secure phone by the Secret Service, Trump is (allegedly) still using his personal Android.
For now, it is unknown why Trump postponed the cybersecurity executive order. One thing is for sure, however: the President needs to be very careful if he doesn’t want to be made to look a fool. Hackers are highly skilled and the means to hack are becoming more common all the time. With that in mind, Trump needs to be wary, because it only takes one mistake to unleash havoc, and despite winning the presidency there is no doubt that Trump is a highly opposed president.
Fingers Crossed for RNC Leak
As far as the RNC hack goes, any staffers who did use the private server were most definitely subject to 44 U.S.C. 2209: a law that includes a “Disclosure Requirement for Official Business Conducted Using Electronic Messaging Accounts.” That means any White House-related work should have been forwarded to the government system within 20 days.
We can only hope that the RNC hacks are disclosed to the public, so that we can have a good look at whether the RNC was conducting business in a better or similar way to the DNC. If the emails aren’t released, Russia may again be blamed for helping Trump win the presidency. If the emails aren’t released, one will be forgiven for feeling that something one-sided might have occurred. With that in mind, maybe Trump should (this time) call for his own party’s emails to be released by the Kremlin?
Meanwhile, last week reports emerged that Trump has given the go-ahead for the House Oversight Committee to fully investigate Clinton. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the HOC, made the following comment:
“If you sat there and heard what he said to me about pursuing oversight of the government and the function that we fulfill, you’d be pretty inspiring, and it was inspiring to me. For him to convey the message, ‘don’t slow down, do your job, there’s a lot to get after with the government,’ I think that’s a good message.”
Opinions are the writer’s own.
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