Mueller 'obtained thousands' of Trump transition emails

Lawyer says emails were acquired 'unlawfully', while Democrats discount argument as 'attempt to discredit Russia probe'.

    Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating alleged Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
    Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating alleged Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

    A lawyer with US President Donald Trump's transition team has accused the special counsel that is probing alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election of illegally obtaining "tens of thousands" of emails during its investigation.

    Kory Langhofer, counsel for Trump for America, Inc (TFA), submitted a letter to the primary Senate and House oversight committees on Thursday, outlining how "career staff at the General Services Administration (GSA) ... unlawfully produced TFA's private materials, including privileged communications, to the special counsel's office".

    The GSA is responsible for managing and supporting federal agencies.

    In the letter, published by Politico, Langhofer argued that the special counsel's office "was aware that the GSA did not own or control the records in question" and that the documents and "tens of thousands of emails" have been "extensively used" during the investigation.

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    The letter and accusations have been swiftly discounted by Democrats and other legal experts as an attempt to discredit the Russia-Trump investigation.

    The probe, headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, began in May to investigate any potential links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. 

    So far, four people, including Trump's former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, have been charged as part of the investigation.

    'Privileged' 

    Langhofer maintains that although the TFA undertakes "executive or quasi-executive functions … they are not federal agencies" and therefore their communications are private and some are "privileged".

    The lawyer said the TFA had learned of the disclosure last week.

    According to the letter, the FBI requested the copies of the emails, laptops, mobile phones and other materials associated with nine transition members "responsible for national security and policy matters" on August 23.

    Langhofer requested that "Congress act immediately to protect future presidential transitions from having their private records misappropriated by government agencies".

    Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel's office, said in a statement to Reuters news agency that "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".

    The GSA had not responded to Al Jazeera's request for comment at the time of publication.

    'No executive privilege'

    Democrats and other legal experts have criticised the letter, saying the accusations are another attempt to "smear the Mueller investigation".

    Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti tweeted that it is not "inappropriate or even unusual" for prosecutors to obtain emails from a third party.

    Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, questioned how "private documents" can be kept on a government email system.

    He tweeted: "'Private documents' on a US government public email system? What are they afraid was found? Baloney. This is another attempt to discredit Mueller as his #TrumpRussia probe tightens."

    Norm Eisen, who worked as a lawyer on former President Barack Obama's transition team in 2008, said he warned "everyone" within his team that "there is NO expectation of privacy in … transition emails", adding that the "clue [is] emails are 'name [at] ptt.gov'.

    He also tweeted: "Executive privilege does not apply until you are the executive; these documents are from the transition, before Trump became the executive [demonstrating] no executive privilege."

    'No collusion'

    Trump and the White House have repeatedly said that "absolutely no collusion" has taken place nor has been proven by Mueller's investigation. 

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    Former National Security Advisor Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI earlier this month in relation to his contact with the Russian ambassador just before Trump took office.

    He is said to be cooperating with Mueller's team.

    George Papadopoulos, an adviser during the campaign, also pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI in October.

    Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and his business associate Rick Gates, were charged with 12 counts, including conspiracy against the US, money laundering and other financial charges, as part of the investigation. They pleaded not guilty in October.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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