President Donald Trump’s transition team is accusing special counsel Bob Mueller of improperly obtaining their emails – even though they were on a government server – and are demanding he return them, MSNBC reports.
Over the weekend, Axios reported that Trump’s transition team discovered that Mueller’s team has obtained “many tens of thousands” of emails hosted on a government server.
According to report, Trump officials were unaware Mueller was in possession of the emails until they were used to question witnesses in the investigation.
“Mueller is using the emails to confirm things, and get new leads,” a transition official told Axios.
Mueller reportedly obtained the emails from the General Services Administration.
The General Services Administration (GSA) isn’t an especially high-profile agency, but it’s the federal department that helps oversee a variety of basic federal functions, including providing transition officials with office space and equipment. When transition team obtain government-issued computers and phones, they receive the devices from the GSA.
Similarly, the GSA is responsible for storing materials related to a presidential transition: we’re talking about .gov email addresses, stored on government servers. It’s why members of any presidential transition team are warned as a matter of course that there’s no expectation of privacy with these communications.
Mueller’s team apparently obtained these materials through the GSA as part of the ongoing probe.
Now, transition team lawyer Kory Langhofer is claiming the GSA “unlawfully” gave Mueller the emails and is demanding the special counsel’s office return them.
Langhofer wrote in a letter to congressional committees that “career staff at the General Services Administration … have unlawfully produced [transition team] private materials, including privileged communications, to the Special Counsel’s Office.”
“We understand that the Special Counsel’s Office has subsequently made extensive use of the materials it obtained from the GSA, including materials that are susceptible to privilege claims,” the letter said.
Langhofer accused the GSA of violating the transition team’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and serizure.
But in a rare public statement, Mueller’s office denied they did anything improper in obtaining the emails.
“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’s Counsel’s office, said in a statement.
While Langhofer sent the letter to Republican-led committees, they too are not jumping to investigate the claims.
Top Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, who spent years raging about Hillary Clinton’s emails, said in a statement that the issue should go to the courts rather than Congress.
“These are issues to be briefed by the parties (or others with cognizable legal claims and standing) and decided by the court — not Congress,” his spokeswoman said.
There’s good reason that Trump’s team is freaking out over the emails. As Yahoo News’ Garance Franke-Ruta pointed out, “The big freak-out over Mueller having the transition emails is that it means any interviewees who lied to the FBI about matters contained therein is already caught because the FBI has the record of what happened.”