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The Clue Is Emails Are ‘.gov’: Mueller, GSA, Attorneys Laugh Off Letter From Trump Transition Lawyer

"Their legal arguments have no merit."

On Saturday evening, we learned that Robert Mueller is in possession of “tens of thousands” of e-mails from the Trump transition.

As Axios first reported, Mueller “obtained the emails from the General Services Administration, the government agency that hosted the transition email system, which had addresses ending in ‘ptt.gov,’ for Presidential Transition Team.”

About an hour later, Fox News reported that Kory Langhofer, an attorney for Trump for America, Inc. wrote a letter to congressional committees insisting that the special counsel had improperly obtained the correspondence.

 

As soon as the Fox story hit, we noted that it wasn’t at all clear whether Langhofer had a leg to stand on.

Well sure enough, Peter Carr, a spokesman for the Mueller investigation, has responded and the bottom line is this:

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.

There you go. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Mueller knows what he can and can’t do when it comes to obtaining documents for a criminal investigation. Or, if you want to take a cynical approach, he knows what he can and can’t get away with.

According to the letter to Congress (which you can find embedded below), then-general counsel to the GSA Richard Beckler assured the Trump team that the “campaign owned and controlled” the correspondence. Further, “any requests for the production of PTT records would therefore be routed to [the campaign’s] legal counsel.” Lenny Loewentritt, Deputy Counsel, allegedly heard that assurance.

Ok, so why doesn’t someone ask Beckler? Well, because he is apparently dead. Here are some excerpts from the letter:

It is our understanding that Mr. Beckler was hospitalized and incapacitated in August 2017. Notwithstanding Mr. Beckler’s June 16, 2017 instruction to the Special Counsel’s Office concerning the ownership and control of PTT records, the Special Counsel’s Office, through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), sent to the GSA two requests for the production of PTT materials while Mr. Beckler was hospitalized and unable to supervise legal matters for the GSA. Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine PTT members responsible for national security and policy matters.

On August 30, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (again, not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting such materials for four additional senior PTT members. Career GSA staff, working with Mr. Loewentritt and at the direction of the FBI, immediately produced all the materials requested by the Special Counsel’s Office – without notifying TFA or filtering or redacting privileged material. The materials produced by the GSA to the Special Counsel’s Office therefore included materials protected by the attorney-client privilege, the deliberative process privilege, and the presidential communications privilege. It is our understanding that Mr. Beckler passed away without returning to the GSA, and that career GSA staff (including Mr. Loewentritt) never consulted with or informed Mr. Beckler or his successor of the unauthorized production of PTT materials.

Meanwhile, the GSA itself is disputing Langhofer’s assertions and as it turns out, BuzzFeed interviewed Loewentritt last night. To wit, from their piece:

“Beckler never made that commitment,” he said of the claim that any requests for transition records would be routed to the Trump campaign’s counsel.

Specifically, Loewentritt said, “in using our devices,” transition team members were informed that materials “would not be held back in any law enforcement” actions.

Loewentritt read to BuzzFeed News a series of agreements that anyone had to agree to when using GSA materials during the transition, including that there could be monitoring and auditing of devices and that, “Therefore, no expectation of privacy can be assumed.”

Loewentritt told BuzzFeed News that the GSA initially “suggested a warrant or subpoena” for the materials, but that the Special Counsel’s Office determined the letter route was sufficient.

As to whether the Trump campaign should have been informed of the request, Loewentritt said, “That’s between the Special Counsel and the transition team.”

Ok, so again, it seems pretty clear that this is just another excuse for someone to posture politically in an effort to pile more pressure on Mueller. That is, if you’re looking for some kind of legally viable excuse to shut down the investigation, this ain’t it.

But again, the point here may not be to actually present anything that’s legally valid. Rather, the point here is probably just to inflame tensions with sympathetic GOP lawmakers and in that regard, you can bet it will work.

Here is the full letter from the TFA lawyer…

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13 comments on “The Clue Is Emails Are ‘.gov’: Mueller, GSA, Attorneys Laugh Off Letter From Trump Transition Lawyer

  1. Donald Trump is officially George Bluth from Arrested Development. He’s a third rate real estate developer who’s committed a host of financial crimes and “some light treason” who also happens to have the worst attorneys.

  2. At least Mueller’s team didn’t ask the Russians for these emails. Or did he?

  3. The key line in Loewentritt’s statement is “Loewentritt told BuzzFeed News that the GSA initially “suggested a warrant or subpoena” for the materials, but that the Special Counsel’s Office determined the letter route was sufficient.” Thus, the SCO did not obtain a warrant or subpoena for the email, but rather issued a self-serving opinion that a letter was sufficient. The GSA should have obtained there own legal opinion on the correct procedure for releasing the email. There could be a problem here, if a warrant or subpoena is required.

    • Chris Davies

      Let’s put it this way. The police can ask to come into your house to look around. If you let them, they can use anything they find in a criminal case. If you refuse, then they need a warrant in order to legally be able to enter and find evidence.

      Therefore, if the GSA had refused to provide the information, then it would have been necessary for the SCO to get a warrant or subpoena. Instead, the GSA handed it over at the SCO’s request, thus proving the SCO correct that a letter was sufficient.

      • The difference here, of course, is that the emails were not (and never were) private communications. Going back to the original story – if TFA’s attorneys thought they had even the slightest change of suppressing the emails on 4th amendment (or any other) grounds, they would have been in front of a Federal judge to argue it within hours of the discovery.

        TFA’s letter to Congress is just more PR baloney, designed to sucker gullible folks into thinking that Mueller is incompetent or careless. Their hope is that the blather will help obscure the seriousness of the emails’ content, and the distinct possibility that those 13 account users did not disclose all, as they had sworn to do.

    • Chris Davies

      This is why, by the way, that it’s always best to have a lawyer when dealing with law enforcement. Letting a lawyer handle all your communications (or at least be present for direct interviews) allows the lawyer to prevent you from giving away incriminating evidence. It’s not illegal to give information to the police without a lawyer present. It’s just ill-advised.

      If anyone can be held at fault here, it’s the GSA staff who complied with the SCO request without first consulting legal staff. They can get in trouble, possibly fired, but it doesn’t ruin the SCO’s ability to use it in a case.

      It’d be like if you weren’t talking with the police, so they instead asked your friend if you did it and he spilled the beans. That gives the cops the information they need, completely legally, and hurts your case through no fault of your own.

      • Chris, I’m just curious about the dead guy — was his word to trump’s cluster – to keep those emails private – legal or binding? So, if he was not dead would his word to hide them be acceptable or would he be facing a judge? Take it one more step, if he had made it known to his co-workers or staff and they failed to keep them hidden – handing them over when they got the letter, this ending would be the same, too bad trump? OR they kept then hidden and were in violation of concealing public records?

      • exactly. the idea that this is somehow Mueller’s fault is laughable. there’s plenty of blame here, but it doesn’t fall on the damn prosecutor.

      • You can bet that the SCO’s request was reviewed by GSA counsel.

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