“My people were very upset about it,” President Donald Trump said Sunday of e-mails obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller belonging to the presidential transition team. Yet despite much arm-waving, Trump’s “people” have provided no evidence supporting their claims of misconduct by Mueller. This feigned outrage over the special counsel’s search of transition-team e-mails is just one more attempt by Trump’s allies to kick up dust around Mueller’s investigation.
The latest diversion began with a letter to Congress from Trump’s transition team alleging that Mueller had improperly obtained e-mails belonging to transition members. According to the letter, Mueller’s investigators requested transition e-mails and devices from the General Services Administration (GSA), the agency that provided the transition team with laptops and cellphones and hosted their government e-mails. Even though the transition used “.gov” e-mail accounts, the letter argues, GSA general counsel Richard Beckler agreed after the inauguration to treat the accounts as private. Yet the GSA handed the documents over to Mueller at his request.
This might be concerning — if it were the full story. But GSA deputy general counsel Lenny Loewentritt, who the transition claims was present when Beckler agreed that the e-mails would be treated as private, says that Beckler made no such promise. Loewentritt points instead to documents in which transition officials signed away their expectation of privacy in order to use GSA systems and devices. (Beckler has since died.)
The transition team also argues that Mueller should have filtered out e-mails protected by executive privilege and attorney-client privilege, both of which can shield communications from being used against a defendant. But the former privilege applies only to the executive branch — and the transition team is claiming it should be treated as a private entity. And while some e-mails could conceivably contain privileged advice from lawyer to client, the letter describes no improper behavior by the special counsel. If Mueller seeks to use privileged materials in legal proceedings, transition members can always challenge him in court. Or they could act now by bringing the matter before the federal judge overseeing Mueller’s grand jury.
The fact that the Trump team has chosen instead to air its grievances before two congressional committees with no jurisdiction over Mueller suggests that this letter is little more than a political stunt. Trump’s allies would be wise to trust in the special counsel’s integrity and let him do his work.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST