During last year’s presidential campaign and as recently as October of this year, Donald Trump repeatedly called for Democrat Hillary Clinton to release any of her personal emails that had not already been made public. But this week, after it was revealed that Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller had obtained “tens of thousands” of emails sent by members of the Trump presidential transition team, Trump now claims that emails written by his own associates are private.
In fact, a Trump transition lawyer, Kory Langhofer, claimed in a letter to congress made public this weekend, that Mueller obtained the emails “unlawfully.” But according to a legal expert and former federal prosecutor, the real reason for Trump’s protests over the emails is not that Mueller broke the law in obtaining them, a claim that appears to be false, but that the emails themselves contain evidence that Trump or members of his inner circle committed crimes — crimes related to the possible collusion between the Trump team and Russia, which is the subject of Mueller’s investigation.
Mueller obtained the emails not from Trump’s team directly, but through the General Services Administration (GSA), which aids presidential transitions between the date of the presidential election and inauguration day. According to former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, who is currently a candidate for state attorney general in Illinois, obtaining the emails through a “third party” would likely have required Mueller to obtain a search warrant.
“Typically prosecutors cannot obtain emails from a third party without using a search warrant, not a subpoena,” Mariotti wrote on his Twitter account late on Saturday. “If that happened here, it would mean a federal judge found that there was good reason to believe that a crime was committed and the emails contained evidence of a crime.”
In his letter to congress, Langhofer claimed that in June, GSA General Counsel Richard “Dick” Beckler, assured the Trump team members that they would be notified before the GSA turned over any emails to Mueller’s investigation. But the GSA denied that Beckler had made any such assurances, according to an Associated Press report.
In fact, GSA spokesperson Lenny Loewentritt told BuzzFeed News, transition team members signed documents acknowledging that their emails in the transition period were not private and could at some point be turned over to law enforcement authorities.
Beckler, who became ill this year and died in September, made a career of representing corporate and government clients, including the multinational contracting firm Halliburton whose CEO was former Vice President Dick Cheney, and John Poindexter, a major figure in the Ronald Reagan era Iran-Contra scandal.
Beckler also represented Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey in the “Debategate” scandal, in which members of the Reagan campaign allegedly stole a briefing book used by then-President Jimmy Carter to prepare for a presidential debate against Reagan in 1980.
Beckler went on to join a law firm headed by former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, one of Trump’s most outspoken supporters during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“The biggest conclusion I’d draw from (Langhofer’s) letter is that (the Trump team is) concerned about Mueller’s investigation and are doing whatever they can to discredit it,” Mariotti wrote. “Their claims themselves are weak and are meant to persuade people who know nothing about criminal investigations.”
On Friday, California Congressional Reprsentative Jackie Speier said in an interview that rumors had spread on Capitol Hill that Trump had become so alarmed by the Mueller investigation’s progress that he was secretly planning to fire Mueller shortly before the Christmas holiday.
But on Saturday, lawyer Ty Cobb, who represents Trump on matters related to the Russia investigation, said that Trump was not currently considering Mueller’s termination.