Will latest revelation lead to Trump’s firing of Special Counsel?
Developments on Day 331 of the Trump Adminstration:
Worried Trump Team Says Mueller “Illegally” Obtained E-mails
Donald Trump’s team and media outlets show concern that Special Counsel Robert Mueller, pursuing the Trump-Russia investigation, has tens of thousands of e-mails from the Trump transition.
Citing “transition team sources”, Axios says the e-mails are from 12 accounts, one of which contains about 7,000 messages, and include the correspondence of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and other members of the political leadership and foreign policy team.
Trump’s lawyers have counter-attacked with a letter to Congressional committees that Mueller’s team improperly received the e-mails from the General Services Administration, a government agency which provided facilities including e-mail accounts for the transition. Kerry Langhofer, the counsel for Trump for America Inc. claimed GSA officials unlawfully handed over the material to the Special Counsel’s office.
Langhofer insisted that the Trump For America is beyond the scope of the investigation because it is a private, non-profit organization whose documents are not subject to presidential records laws.
Mueller’s staff dismissed the complaint. “When we have obtained e-mails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” said spokesman Peter Carr.
GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt denied Langhofer’s claim that the GSA had promised that any requests for transition team records would be “routed to legal counsel” for Trump for America.
Lowentritt said the transition was warned that information “would not be held back in any law enforcement” investigation. He referred to a series of agreements which any transition member had to observe, including that there could be monitoring and auditing of devices s “no expectation of privacy can be assumed”.
Axios’ sources said transition officials, assuming that the Special Counsel’s office would seek material, sifted through the e-mails and separated communications they considered privileged. But the sources said the effort was in vain because Mueller has the complete computer cache from the dozen accounts.
Trying to Undermine Mueller
The complaint against Mueller appears to be part of the Trump camp’s campaign — led by media allies such as Fox — to undermine the Trump-Russia investigation. With Trump risking his political future if he fires Mueller, the tactics have been to claim that the Special Counsel’s team is compromised by anti-Trump bias.
Fox, given a copy of Langhofer’s letter, leaves no doubt of its approach this morning with the headline across a picture of Mueller, “Unlawful Conduct“.
BREAKING NEWS: Trump transition team sends letter to lawmakers; claims Mueller team inappropriately obtained private documents. pic.twitter.com/fWAqEdnz09
— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 16, 2017
The TV outlet, featuring interviews with White House counsellor KellyAnne Conway, is now referring to a possible “coup” against Trump.
Fox News throwing the c-word around with the kind of carelessness I've only ever seen in the Middle East pic.twitter.com/LnTCXhJLLg
— Sulome Anderson (@SulomeAnderson) December 17, 2017
The allegations may also be used to try to close off Congressional inquiries.
On Friday, Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he fears the committee’s Republican majority intends to close its investigation prematurely. Some Republicans have argued that Mueller is biased against Trump and should be fired, while others have demanded a second Special Counsel to investigate Mueller’s team.
Schiff’s warning came as Donald Trump launched another broadside at the FBI — “a shame what happened with [it]” — and Mueller’s investigation for “spending millions and millions of dollars” when there was “absolutely no collusion” with Russia.
Fox, through its host and Trump friend Jeanine Pirro, argued last week that personnel in the FBI, including Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and Justice Department need not only to be “fired but led out in handcuffs”.
Russia’s State outlet RT is also pushing the line that Mueller “illegally” obtained the GSA e-mails, ignoring the analysis of legal experts that the claim has no basis.
A Miscalculation by Trump Team?
One explanation on social media of the even greater alarm from the Trump team is that it miscalculated and thought any incriminating e-mails had been hidden or even destroyed by a former GSA official.
Settle in, politikids.
You're going to enjoy this…
I've read the full letter Trump transition team attorneys sent to legislators re: Mueller obtaining their emails.
It has a delicious reveal.
— The Hoarse Whisperer (@HoarseWisperer) December 17, 2017
Earlier this year, Trump appointed Richard Backler, an attorney at the firm of Trump’s ally Rudy Giuliani, as the GSA’s top lawyer. Backler allegedly assured the Trump transition team’s attorneys that he would not allow GSA e-mails to be handed to investigators.
But Backler fell ill and was hospitalized in August, when the Special Counsel’s office requested the documents. The attorney, who subsequently died, had also allegedly failed to “secure” the material so it could not be found.
Trump for America’s Langhofer inadvertently fed this explanation when he said Beckler told the transition team that it “owned and controlled” all of its e-mails, and that any requests for transition team records would be routed through the campaign’s legal representative.
GSA attorney Loewentritt said Beckler “never made that commitment”.
Trump’s team did not realize until last week that the GSA material had been obtained by Mueller. So advisors such as Jared Kushner, interviewed this autumn, would have been given statements without being aware that they could be checked against e-mails.