Dem-pushed probe into Betsy DeVos' personal email use finds no 'active or extensive' misconduct

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos did not make "active or extensive" use of her personal email accounts to conduct official business, according to an internal watchdog inquiry long pushed by House Democrats that concluded with a whimper on Monday.

Congressional Democrats for months have aggressively pursued a variety of probes into DeVos, who has frustrated liberal lawmakers by embracing deregulation and methodically dismantling the Obama administration's education platform.

But this particular review largely came up empty, with the Education Department's Office of Inspector General saying it searched the department's email system and found only a "limited" number of messages to or from DeVos' personal accounts.

In total, the watchdog said there were "fewer than 100" emails linked to four personal accounts. Most of the emails were from the first six months of 2017, soon after DeVos took office, and most were from a single person, the inquiry found.

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The person, who was not identified in the report, was writing to recommend candidates for agency jobs. Other emails were from people who congratulated DeVos on her confirmation or offered other job advice.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, seated, tours a technical college in Florence, S.C., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, seated, tours a technical college in Florence, S.C., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP)

The secretary's office told investigators it was taking "additional steps to identify and preserve" emails in her personal accounts. A department spokeswoman declined to comment.

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Under department rules, employees are forbidden from using personal emails for government business except in rare circumstances when their work accounts are unavailable. In those cases, employees are required to forward the messages to their work accounts within 20 days. But in DeVos' case, the report said, that never happened.

"We did not identify any instances where the secretary forwarded emails from her personal accounts to her department email accounts," the report said. It added that "the secretary's emails related to government business were not always being properly preserved."

The inspector general's office urged the department to improve its training on the issue. It said there was no other evidence of irregularities around the use of personal emails.

During his 2016 campaign, President Trump repeatedly attacked Democratic rival Hillary Clinton over findings that she used a private email server for work while she was secretary of state. At rallies, Trump often called for her prosecution and led supporters in chants of "lock her up!"

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DeVos, unlike Clinton's subordinates, did not delete tens of thousands of emails that were subpoeaned by Congress, nor did DeVos maintain private email servers hosted in her homes.

Additionally, none of the emails sent by DeVos involved classified information, while several emails that found their way onto Clinton's personal email server contained classified materials -- including messages that were marked classified at the time they were sent.

The Education Department review was requested in October 2017 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. However, the inspector general's office said it was unable to begin work until "well into 2018" because of staffing challenges.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.