Newsweek magazine is reporting that senior members of President Donald Trump's staff, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, press secretary Sean Spicer, and senior advisers Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, are using private email accounts belonging to the Republican National Committee that are hosted by a computer server in downtown Chattanooga.
While there is nothing illegal about top government officials using a private email account, the FBI investigated Trump's opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private email server, including allegations that emails containing classified information had been sent to the private account, making it vulnerable to hackers.
The Airnet Group, a Chattanooga firm located on Broad Street, is cited by Newsweek as the company hosting the email accounts for the RNC.
Contacted Wednesday evening, an Airnet staffer said he was not authorized to speak to the press. But the company's website states the company has worked with political call centers "for over a decade now. Deploying hundreds of thousands of call centers, millions of minutes and collecting billions of data points."
Airnet is better known in political circles as SmartTech, a Chattanooga-based company that evolved from a staffing firm in 1994 to a political telecommunications business in 2002, and now runs some of the largest nonprofit, corporate and political marketing efforts in the country, company founder Jeff Averbeck told the Times Free Press in a previous interview.
The company operates a large data center in the Pioneer Building downtown.
Other government officials have gotten into trouble when using private email accounts if they use the accounts to discuss government business. Most government emails are subject to open records laws, and use of a private email system to discuss government business can be seen as a way to avoid making them public. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, for example, was criticized for using her private Yahoo account during the first month of her administration.
Top government officials have argued that using a private email system is proper, however, if they need to keep their government work separate from a private business, such as when a staffer is working on behalf of a candidate's election campaign, while at the same time serving in a government post.
The Newsweek story states the Republican National Committee email system (rnchq.org) "is the same one the George W. Bush administration was accused of using to evade transparency rules after claiming to have 'lost' 22 million emails."
Newsweek also notes that the RNC account that Trump staffers apparently are using was hacked, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, during the 2016 campaign.