Political News

Trump Lawyer Says Mueller Improperly Obtained Transition Emails

Posted December 17, 2017 4:47 p.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2017 4:53 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — A lawyer for President Donald Trump has accused the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, of improperly obtaining emails and other records from Trump’s transition team, the latest in the mounting attacks by the president and his surrogates on Mueller’s investigation.

The lawyer said in a letter to Congress on Saturday that the General Services Administration, the government agency that possessed the transition team’s emails, had handed over the materials to Mueller’s investigators in August without allowing lawyers for the transition team to review them. The documents, the lawyer argued, should have been shielded by various privileges, like attorney-client privilege.

In a rare public statement, a spokesman for Mueller’s office defended how the emails had been obtained.

“When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office.

As Mueller has produced a series of indictments and guilty pleas in recent weeks, Republicans have increased their attacks on him, saying his investigation is being run by partisans. Democrats have called the attacks a blatant effort to discredit an investigation that seems to be pushing closer to the Oval Office.

Among the materials obtained by Mueller were emails, laptops and cellphones for nine members of Trump’s transition team who worked on national security and policy matters, according to the letter by the Trump lawyer, Kory Langhofer.

Mueller’s investigators have used the documents during interviews with transition team officials when questioning them about calls between Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and the Russian ambassador in which they discussed U.S. sanctions.

The materials, Langhofer argued, were the property of the transition team, and therefore it should have had the chance to decide what was given to investigators.

“The materials produced by the GSA to the special counsel’s office therefore included materials protected by the attorney-client privilege, the deliberative process privilege, and the presidential communications privilege,” Langhofer, the counsel to Trump for America, said in the letter, which was sent to the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate and House oversight committees.

Republicans have seized on the notion of a biased inquiry after the disclosure that Mueller removed one of the top agents working on the investigation, Peter Strzok, this year after the discovery of text messages between him and a colleague in which they described the possibility of an election victory by Trump as “terrifying” and said that Hillary Clinton “just has to win.”

In addition, Republicans have said one of Mueller’s top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, may also be biased against Trump because he praised the acting attorney general in a January email for not enforcing Trump’s travel ban.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, praised Mueller in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday for removing Strzok but said “there are others” whom Mueller needs to examine.

“There are plenty of FBI agents and prosecutors who have not been politically involved on behalf of Democrats or overtly critical of the president that can serve in this important investigation,” Cornyn said.

He added: “So I have confidence in Director Mueller. I would just think he would be concerned about the appearance of conflicts of interest that would undermine the integrity of the investigation.”

The growing criticism of Mueller has fueled speculation that Trump may fire him. On Sunday, a top Trump administration official dismissed that possibility.

“There’s no conversation about that whatsoever in the White House,” Marc Short, the White House’s legislative affairs director, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Short said he had not communicated with Langhofer, the transition lawyer, but expressed concern that the length and scope of Mueller’s inquiry had tested public patience.

“Taxpayers have spent millions and millions of dollars on this investigation that has not yet proven any sense of collusion with the Russians,” he said. “I think the American people are ready to turn the page.”