WASHINGTON — The Office of the Special Counsel, which hasn’t said a peep through its spokesman in eight months other than releasing documents in relation to four Trump campaign members who’ve been indicted or pleaded guilty to various offenses, rebutted the Trump transition team’s assertion that emails were improperly obtained from the General Services Administration by Robert Mueller’s team.
Reuters reported Saturday on a letter sent by an attorney for Trump for America, Inc. to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee claiming that GSA staffers “unlawfully produced TFA’s private materials, including privileged communications, to the Special Counsel’s Office,” including “tens of thousands of emails” from a dozen officials.
The Trump transition team used GSA facilities and equipment, with “ptt.gov” email addresses, between Donald Trump’s November 2016 win and the January inauguration.
“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,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, said in a statement after the story broke.
A transition team source told Axios today that they’re planning to ask Mueller to return some emails that they contest are privileged, saying that they’ll give the special counsel “vetted” emails from the transition period. The Trump team reportedly realized Mueller had the emails in the first place when the special counsel was using the content of the emails in questioning witnesses.
The Trump transition team letter says they were assured by the GSA that Team Trump ultimately “owned and controlled” emails exchanged within the framework of the government agency.
GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt told BuzzFeed that the agency’s general counsel “never made that commitment” that any requests for transition team records would be forwarded to the Trump campaign’s counsel, as asserted now by the transition team.
Loewentritt said that “in using our devices,” Trump’s transition team was informed that materials “would not be held back in any law enforcement” actions. The counsel read to BuzzFeed agreements from the transition period that spelled out “no expectation of privacy can be assumed,” including monitoring and auditing of devices.
He said GSA initially “suggested a warrant or subpoena” for Mueller’s team, which requested the materials from GSA in two August letters to the agency — and said any disagreement over that request method, which Mueller’s team found legally sound, is “between the special counsel and the transition team.”
White House legislative director Marc Short told NBC this morning that “thankfully, I’m not in communication with the transition lawyer for the Trump team.”
“The reality is that this administration has complied in every single possible way with the special counsel,” Short said. “Taxpayers have spent millions and millions of dollars on this investigation that has not yet proven any sense of collusion with the Russians.”
He added “there is no conversation… whatsoever in the White House” about firing Mueller.
“I read that the president’s own lawyer says that’s not going to happen,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told ABC of any move to fire Mueller. “I think that would be a mistake, myself.”
Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a former federal prosecutor, told CNN this morning that he would be “very surprised” if Mueller “illegally obtained” anything. “He is the consummate professional. And that investigation is proceeding. It’s going to go forward. I don’t see any taint at this point,” Jones said.
“The one thing that came up with regard to an FBI agent who had done some e-mails, was removed from the team, that’s the process, that’s how it works, and so I think it will just move forward,” he added. “…I think this investigation is moving. It’s going to shake down the way it’s going to shake down. There’s a lot of different avenues.”
On his return to the White House today, President Trump said it’s “not looking good” when asked if he thinks transition emails were improperly acquired.
“My people are very upset about it. I can’t imagine there’s anything on ’em, frankly, because as we said, there’s no collusion. There’s no collusion whatsoever. A lot of lawyers thought that was pretty sad,” Trump said.
Asked if he intended to fire Mueller, Trump replied, “No, I’m not.”