WASHINGTON — Lawyers representing the Trump presidential transition wrote to members of Congress accusing special counsel Robert Mueller of obtaining unauthorized access to tens of thousands of transition emails, including what they claim to be documents protected by attorney-client privilege.
The transition maintains the emails, which were on a government domain, were its property and should not have been handed over without its approval.
The emails in question involve 13 transition officials, including four senior ones, according to the letter.
The lawyer, Kory Langhofer, wrote to leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and House Oversight and Government Reform committees because he said the General Services Administration, which supports presidential transitions, “unlawfully produced” private materials of the transition although the GSA “did not own or control the records in question.”
Langhofer wrote in the letter that the Special Counsel's Office "was actively using those materials without any notice" to transition officials.
The letter states there were two other occasions where the Special Counsel's Office did not notify transition officials that their records had been requested or received.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, responded to the accusations early Sunday.
"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," Carr said.
GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt disputed a claim by Langhofer that the GSA's general counsel had agreed in June that any requests for transition records would go to the Trump campaign, BuzzFeed News reported Saturday night.
Loewentritt said transition officials were told that "in using our devices," materials "would not be held back in any law enforcement" requests. He added there was a series of agreements between the transition and GSA for using its goods and therefore there was no expectation of privacy.
Langhofer's letter also states that Special Counsel's Office had obtained transition laptops, cell phones and at least one iPad after the FBI requested them of career GSA staff without a subpoena.
The letter also says a representative of the Special Counsel's Office told transition officials it did not recover any documents from that hardware, but failed "to disclose the critical fact that ... the Special Counsel's office had simultaneously received from the GSA tens of thousands of emails."
"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," the letter maintains.
The transition lawyer is asking the members of Congress to act to protect future presidential transitions from having "private records misappropriated by government agencies, particularly in the context of sensitive investigations intersecting with political motives." Specifically, the lawyer is asking if future transitions receive request or demand for documents it must provide notice to transition officials and an opportunity to respond.