As reports continue to surface that help paint a picture of an investigation plagued by conflicts of interest, special counsel Robert Mueller is now under fire for breaking the law himself after it was found he took tens of thousands of Trump transition team emails from the General Services Administration (GSA) without asking the team whether they were still considered private communications.
As a result, Kory Langhofer, a lawyer for Trump for America, has accused Mueller of illegally and unconstitutionally obtaining these records stored on computers, iPads, and phones, between Election Day 2016 and Inauguration Day 2017. In addition to providing zero notice to the team, Langhofer told Fox that the GSA “did not own or control the records in question,” and therefore the move could have been a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The transition team had kept the communications as what is legally called “privileged material.” But according to Langhofer, the special counsel’s office admitted that they didn’t set up a “taint team” that would have separated privileged material from legitimate material and kept lawyers on the case from seeing the privileged documents. Gregg Jarrett told Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro “Everybody at DOJ knows that when you get a huge cache of documents,” this is the procedure you follow.
Moreover, according to Jonathan Turley at The Hill, “the National Archives has expressly maintained” that materials created or received by Presidential transition teams “are not federal or presidential records, but are considered private materials.” And in accordance with agreements made with transition teams, the GSA is supposed to delete all data on communications devices used by the team.
However, Mueller’s team demanded the records regardless, while the general counsel for the GSA, Richard Beckler, was hospitalized and later passed away. The team claims that Beckler had agreed with the team not to release any of their communications to the government unless they were notified. Meanwhile, the Mueller team asked the next in command at the GSA for the communications, which the GSA handed over without sending a notice.
According to Fox News, Peter Carr, spokesman for the special counsel’s office, said they had “secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process” to obtain the emails during the investigation. However, now that these questions have been raised, any indictment made by Mueller could be impeded by the fact that he created a “fruit of the poisonous tree” situation. Therefore, anything acquired from the documents that led to interrogations or interviews can’t be used by the prosecution.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has since asked the GSA to turn over more information about how Mueller obtained the communications, and for the name of the GSA staffer who authorized their release. Johnson called the GSA’s actions a possible national security threat to incoming administrations. He wrote: “An incoming administration must be ready to govern on Day 1. Any threat to the close coordination between the transition and outgoing administration could create vulnerabilities to governance, readiness and national security.”