By John Roberts, Alex Pappas, ,
Published December 17, 2017
Exclusive— A lawyer for the Trump presidential transition team is accusing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office of inappropriately obtaining transition documents as part of its Russia probe, including confidential attorney-client communications, privileged communications and thousands of emails without their knowledge.
In a letter obtained by Fox News and sent to House and Senate committees on Saturday, the transition team’s attorney alleges “unlawful conduct” by the career staff at the General Services Administration (GSA) in handing over transition documents to the special counsel’s office.
Kory Langhofer, the counsel to Trump for America (TFA), argues the GSA “did not own or control the records in question” and the release of documents could be a violation of the Fourth Amendment – which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Langhofer wrote in Saturday's letter that the GSA handed over “tens of thousands of emails” to Mueller's probe without "any notice" to the transition.
The attorney said they discovered the “unauthorized disclosures” by the GSA on Dec. 12 and 13 and raised concerns with the special counsel’s office. The Associated Press reported that the GSA turned over a flash drive containing tens of thousands of records on Sept. 1 after receiving requests from Mueller's office in late August.
Those records included emails sent and received by 13 senior Trump transition officials. Among the officials who used transition email accounts was former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to a count of making false statements to FBI agents in January and is now cooperating with Mueller's investigation.
“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," Langhofer wrote. He added that some of the records obtained by the special counsel’s office from the GSA “have been leaked to the press by unknown persons.”
The transition attorney said the special counsel's office also received laptops, cell phones and at least one iPad from the GSA.
Trump for America is the nonprofit organization that facilitated the transition between former President Barack Obama to President Trump.
The GSA, an agency of the United States government, provided the transition team with office space and hosted its email servers.
“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, spokesman for the special counsel’s office, told Fox News.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News Saturday evening, GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt denied Langhofer's claim that then-GSA General Counsel Richard Beckler had promised that any requests for transition team records would be "routed to legal counsel for [Trump for America]."
"Beckler never made that commitment," said Loewentritt, who added that transition team members were warned that information "would not be held back in any law enforcement" investigation and that "no expectation of privacy can be assumed." (Longhofer's letter notes that Beckler "was hospitalized and incapacitated in August." He died the following month.)
Loewentritt also told BuzzFeed that the GSA suggested that Mueller's team issue a warrant or subpoena for the transition team materials, but the special prosecutor's office decided a letter requesting the materials would suffice.
“We continue to cooperate fully with the special counsel and expect this process to wrap up soon,” Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Saturday.
In his letter, Langhofer argued the GSA's actions “impair the ability of future presidential transition teams to candidly discuss policy and internal matters that benefit the country as a whole."
Langhofer requests in the letter that Congress “act immediately to protect future presidential transitions from having their private records misappropriated by government agencies, particularly in the context of sensitive investigations intersecting with political motives.”
The letter was sent to the Senate Homeland Security and House Oversight Committees.
The committees did not immediately return a request for comment.
Fox News’ Joseph Weber and Jennifer Bowman contributed to this report, along with The Associated Press.