President Donald Trump’s lawyers are again squaring off with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, this time over “tens of thousands” of emails Mueller’s team obtained from “ptt.gov,” the government server that played host to communications between members of Trump’s transition team before the president officially moved into the White House.
Trump’s lawyers, and sources close to the transition (which is still, technically, in operation) told Axios that the Trump team believes the emails were improperly obtained, some in violation of the 4th Amendment, and that hundreds may contain privileged information.
They want the emails returned to transition officials who will “vet” them and return non-privileged communications back to Mueller’s team, Axios says. “What they did is totally illegal, and they need to fix it,” a source told the online outlet.
Axios revealed Saturday that Mueller’s team got the emails early on in their investigation into whether the Trump operation secretly colluded with Russian officials to upend the 2016 presidential election. Mueller’s team says the emails were fair game; they were located on a government server, open to anyone with the appropriate security clearance.
The emails reportedly contain juicy information: “sensitive exchanges on matters such as potential appointments, gossip about the views of particular senators involved in the confirmation process, speculation about vulnerabilities of Trump nominees, strategizing about press statements, and policy planning on everything from war to taxes.”
The Mueller team used the emails to help generate new leads, to “confirm things,” and to structure the questions they ultimately asked members of Trump’s campaign and transition team, Axios reports.
But that leaves Trump’s lawyers unhappy — and they filed a seven-page letter threatening to take Mueller to court if the Special Counsel’s office doesn’t return the treasure trove of online communications. They’re even claiming Mueller should have gotten a warrant to search the transition’s property, though the server hosting the “ptt.gov” address was, in fact, government property.
That’s bad, the lawyers say, but what’s worse is that information contained in what they believe are privileged emails has been leaked to the press.
The damage may be already done, if Mueller’s team is truthful in asserting they’ve already used the emails as a check on witness testimony, but the issue may be exactly what Republicans need to start a hot war over Mueller’s dragging investigation.
Both the White House and senior GOP officials insist that Mueller’s investigation, which has been going on for nearly nine months, has turned up nothing and should conclude. Mueller’s team seems to believe they should continue to dig into the Trump campaign and transition, even as leads promising collusion appear to have dried up.