Defense Secretary Ashton Carter relied on a personal email account to conduct a portion of his government business during his first months at the Pentagon, according to a report by The New York Times.
Carter continued the practice – which violated Defense Department rules – for at least two months after it was revealed in March that Hillary Clinton had exclusively used a personal email account as secretary of state, officials told The Times.
Although Carter was assigned a government email account when he became defense secretary in February, he continued to use his private account for work matters, the report said.
A former aide to Carter told The Times the defense secretary used the personal account “so frequently that members of his staff feared he would be hacked and worried about his not following the rules.”
Officials said White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough learned of the usage in May and directed the White House Counsel’s Office to contact the Pentagon to ask why Carter was using the personal account.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement that Carter believes doing so “was a mistake.”
“After reviewing his email practices earlier this year, the secretary believes that his previous, occasional use of personal email for work-related business, even for routine administrative issues and backed up to his official account, was a mistake,” Cook said.
“As a result, he stopped such use of his personal email and further limited his use of email altogether,” Cook said.
It is not yet clear how many work-related emails Mr. Carter sent and received from his personal account.
The revelation came after The Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all emails from the personal account that Carter sent or received with his chief of staff at the time, Eric Fanning, during the month of April.
The Pentagon provided The Times with 72 work-related emails Carter sent or received from his personal email account, using an iPhone and iPad.
Officials said that Carter emailed with his closest aides about “a variety of work-related matters, including speeches, meetings and news media appearances.”
Cook said any email related to work received on his personal account was “copied or forwarded to his official account to be preserved as a federal record as appropriate.”
Cook also said Carter does not use his personal or official email for classified material.
“He is confident that his work-related email has been and will continue to be preserved within the federal records system,” he added.
In 2012, the Pentagon adopted a policy that bars all employees regardless of rank or position from relying on personal email to conduct government business, the Times reported.
Obama also last year signed a law directing federal officials not to send or receive emails on their personal accounts unless they were copied directly into their government accounts or forwarded to a government account within 20 days.