Donald Trump will not sack Robert Mueller despite upset over email disclosure

US president Donald Trump has said he is not considering sacking special counsel Robert Mueller - but he is upset about the way the Russia probe investigator obtained and is using thousands of emails sent and received by senior Trump transition officials.

Mr Trump said of the emails: "I can’t imagine there’s anything on ’em, frankly. Because, as we said, there’s no collusion (with Russia during last year’s campaign)."

However, he said the way Mr Mueller obtained the emails was "not looking good; it’s quite sad".

     

Mr Trump was asked about the emails on Sunday after the disclosure that Mr Mueller’s team had obtained them from the General Services Administration (GSA), a federal agency that stored the material, rather than requesting them from Mr Trump’s presidential transition organisation.

The GSA improperly provided the records, according to Kory Langhofer, general counsel of Mr Trump’s still-existing transition group, Trump For America.

Mr Mueller’s team has been "actively using" the emails in its investigation, Mr Langhofer said.

The president himself has been harshly critical of Mr Mueller’s probe of Russian activities during the 2016 campaign, but when asked if he was planning to fire the former FBI director, Mr Trump said: "I’m not."

The emails in question were provided to Mueller’s team by the GSA in September in response to requests from the FBI, but the transition team did not learn about it until last week, Mr Langhofer said in a letter sent to the Republican heads of two congressional committees: the House Oversight and Senate Homeland Security panels.

Mr Langhofer said the transition organisation considers the documents as private and privileged - and not government property.

The tens of thousands of emails pertain to 13 senior Trump transition officials.

Some of the emails include national security discussions about possible administration international aims as well as candid assessments of candidates for top government posts, according to people familiar with the transition.

Among the officials who used the accounts was former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents in January and is cooperating with Mr Mueller’s investigation.

Mr Trump fired Flynn in February. The White House said that was for misleading senior administration officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the US.

Still, it is unclear how broadly revelatory the emails will be for Mr Mueller.

Several high-level Trump advisers sometimes used other email accounts, including their campaign accounts, to communicate about transition issues between Election Day and the inauguration.

Jay Sekulow, an attorney on Trump’s personal legal team, referred questions to the transition group. Spokespeople for GSA did not respond to requests for comment.

The special counsel’s office also obtained at least one iPad as well as laptops and mobile phones that were used by the transition, but prosecutors have assured the transition that investigators have not pulled emails or other data from those devices, Mr Langhofer said.

He said that a GSA official appointed by Mr Trump in May had assured the transition in June that any request for records from Mr Mueller’s office would be referred to the transition’s attorneys.

             

According to Mr Langhofer, the assurance was made by then-GSA general counsel Richard Beckler, who was hospitalised in August and has since died.

But another GSA official present for the conversation told BuzzFeed News that there was nothing improper about the disclosure of the emails to Mr Mueller’s team. The GSA has provided office space and other aid to presidential transitions in recent years and typically houses electronic transition records in its computer system.

GSA deputy counsel Lenny Loewentritt, whom Mr Langhofer blames along with other GSA career staff for providing the transition documents to the FBI, told BuzzFeed that Mr Beckler did not make a commitment that requests from law enforcement for materials would be routed through transition lawyers.

Transition officials signed agreements that warn them that materials kept on the government servers are subject to monitoring and auditing, Mr Loewentritt told BuzzFeed, and there is no expectation of privacy.

Mr Mueller’s spokesman, Peter Carr, said the special counsel’s office has followed the law when it has obtained documents during its investigation.

"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," Mr Carr said.

In a statement, congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, dismissed the transition’s arguments that GSA should not have turned over the records.

The media site Axios first reported on the transfer of the emails to Mr Mueller’s team.

AP


KEYWORDS: Donald Trump

 

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