Trump transition lawyer accuses Mueller of unlawfully obtaining emails
A lawyer for President Donald Trump’s transition team is accusing special counsel Robert Mueller of unlawfully obtaining tens of thousands of private emails during its investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election.
Kory Langhofer, an Arizona-based attorney representing Trump for America, spelled out the complaint in a seven-page letter sent Saturday to the main House and Senate oversight committees where he raises potential violations of attorney-client privilege and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful search and seizure.
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Mueller’s office got the records earlier this summer from the General Services Administration, the government agency charged with holding all transition materials, even while it was “aware that the GSA did not own or control the records in question,” Langhofer wrote.
The Trump attorney also argued that Mueller’s office has “extensively used the materials in question” during its investigation even though its prosecutors were aware some of the materials were subject to claims of attorney-client privilege and other protections.
A Mueller spokesman, Peter Carr, declined comment on the letter. A GSA spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Trump team’s complaint – which a source close to the transition said it intends to elevate by filing a formal letter to Mueller — is the latest in a series of legal maneuvers seeking to challenge the special counsel’s authority. The effort to rein in the probe is expected to increase as the Russia prosecutors continue their work while they simultaneously prepare for a criminal trial next year against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates.
Several former Justice and national security officials and experts in federal criminal law cast doubt Saturday that the Trump transition team’s complaint amounted to a serious breach.
“I seriously doubt there is anything here to taint the [Mueller] investigation,” said William Jeffress, a white-collar defense attorney who represented Vice President Dick Cheney’s senior aide, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, during the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation. Jeffress added the letter included no evidence to prove any privileged information had been obtained by Mueller’s team and that even if it were, there are procedures for retrieving them.
Democrats and Trump critics erupted after news of the letter broke, warning that the allegations against Mueller smacked of a pretext for Trump firing him. White House attorney Ty Cobb on Saturday declined comment about the transition team’s specific complaint, but he insisted to POLITICO that an ouster of Mueller isn’t in the offing.
“As the White House has repeatedly and emphatically said for months, there is no consideration at the White House of terminating the special counsel,” Cobb said.
According to Langhofer’s letter, the Trump transition team first learned that the special counsel had obtained the emails from GSA earlier this week. It took those concerns to Brandon Van Grack, a Mueller prosecutor, who confirmed the special counsel’s prosecutors had obtained laptops, cell phones and at least one iPad from GSA.
“But he assured us that the Special Counsel’s investigation did not recover any emails or other relevant data from that hardware,” Langhofer said.
The Trump attorney added that, during the conversation, Van Grack “failed to disclose the critical fact that undercut the importance of his representations, namely, that the Special Counsel’s Office had simultaneously received from the GSA tens of thousands of emails, including a very significant volume of privileged material, and that the Special Counsel’s Office was actively using those materials without any notice to TFA.” Van Grack also declined to identify the 13 transition officials whose materials the special counsel’s office had obtained.
In subsequent conversations, Van Grack declined to spell out what procedures the special counsel’s office had undertaken to protect the transition’s privileged communications and he also acknowledged Mueller hadn’t set up the kinds of ethical reviews required to protect the evidence and “instead simply reviewed the privileged communications contained in the PTT materials,” Langhofer said.