As the investigation into the Russia scandal has unfolded, there have been more than a few questions about Donald Trump’s legal team and some of the idiosyncratic arguments pushed by the president’s attorneys.
Indeed, it was just two weeks ago when one of Trump’s top lawyers argued – twice – that it’s impossible for a sitting president to obstruct justice. The contention was soon after rejected by, among others, one of Trump’s other lawyers.
It’s likely that questions about the president’s legal representation will grow a little after the dust-up over the weekend. NBC News reported:
A top lawyer for President Donald Trump’s transition team has accused a government agency of unlawfully turning over thousands of emails to special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into Russia’s election meddling and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.
Kory Langhofer, general counsel to the transition team known as Trump for America (TFA), wrote a letter to the House Oversight Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Saturday detailing claims that Mueller’s team had improperly received emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration.
As a rule, Mueller and his investigators say very little in response to assorted criticisms, but in this case, Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the special counsel’s office, told NBC News in a statement, “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.”
So what’s the story all about? Let’s unpack this a bit.
The General Services Administration (GSA) isn’t an especially high-profile agency, but it’s the federal department that helps oversee a variety of basic federal functions, including providing transition officials with office space and equipment. When transition team obtain government-issued computers and phones, they receive the devices from the GSA.
Similarly, the GSA is responsible for storing materials related to a presidential transition: we’re talking about .gov email addresses, stored on government servers. It’s why members of any presidential transition team are warned as a matter of course that there’s no expectation of privacy with these communications.
Mueller’s team apparently obtained these materials through the GSA as part of the ongoing probe. According to an Axios report, Team Trump discovered that the special counsel had the emails “when his prosecutors used them as the basis for questions to witnesses.”
And this, in turn, appears to have caused a great deal of anxiety within Trump World. Indeed, by some accounts, officials with the president’s transition team, which evidently still exists, want Mueller’s investigators to give the emails back.
It’s a story with several important angles, but let’s start with the most entertaining one: the folks who wanted Russian operatives to steal Hillary Clinton’s emails are the same folks who are outraged that the special counsel’s office obtained government emails stored on a government server.
Because time is a flat circle, it’s hard not to appreciate the fact that as 2017 comes to a close, one of the big political controversies of the day is focused on … wait for it … email server management.
What’s more, it’s also worth appreciating the reason behind the Trump World’s apoplexy. Yahoo News’ Garance Franke-Ruta noted over the weekend, “The big freak-out over Mueller having the transition emails is that it means any interviewees who lied to the FBI about matters contained therein is already caught because the FBI has the record of what happened.”
And finally, I think Bloomberg Politics’ Steven Dennis raised an important point, asking the political world to consider a hypothetical. Imagine if President Hillary Clinton were in office right now and her political operation were the subject of a special counsel’s investigation. Then imagine federal investigators obtained her transition team’s emails, leading to no small amount of anxiety among members of Clinton World, who wrote to Congress to complain about the latest developments in the probe.
What do you suppose the political world’s reaction would be to such circumstances? I have a hunch we’d be hearing a whole lot of questions right now about what Clinton and her team are so eager to hide.