Lawyers working for Donald J. Trump’s presidential transition, Trump for America, are expecting a resolution to the awkward situation they discovered Wednesday–that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his staff had full access to their electronic correspondence without notice, nor subpoena, nor the sanction of a federal judge.
In a letter dated Saturday, the managing attorney of the Phoenix-based Statecraft law firm Dec. 16 letter, Kory Langhofer informed Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (R.-Wis.), chairmen of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and Rep. Harold W. “Trey” Gowdy III (R.-S.C.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, that Mueller’s team seized the emails in contravention to operational practice and legal doctrine that afforded the transition team a very high expectation of privacy for their electronic correspondence.
“Such legislative protections are particularly crucial in the context of investigations focusing on political activities or the discharge of legislative, executive, or judicial responsibilities,” he wrote “As recent events have unfortunately illustrated, such inquiries are especially vulnerable to the taint of partisan agendas, political bias, and other malign machinations.”
The graduate of Yale University Law School asked Congress to pass laws to protect future transition teams.
“We hope this letter is useful in discharging your oversight responsibilities, ensuring the integrity of the Special Counsel’s investigation, and crafting appropriate legislation,” he wrote.
A source familiar close to the attorneys for the transition team told Big League Politics the lawyers were shocked at the realization the special counsel’s team would have behaved so brazenly and without regard for professional courtesies, let alone legalities.
The source said the transition team lawyers have signed agreements with the General Services Administration, the agency that gave Mueller access to the emails, that assured them that they would have confidential communications.
Although there is no expectation of privacy for emails in the routine sense, such as with a third-party provider, such as Yahoo or Google, or with a government agency or company-provided email, there absolutely is an expectation of privacy when it relates to the deliberations and correspondence of an incoming presidential administration.
Langhofer wrote that Mueller and his team acted unlawfully in a way that undermined the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended, and will impair the ability of future presidential transition teams to candidly discuss policy and internal matters that benefit the country as a whole.
More specifically, we write to inform you that (a) career staff at the General Services Administration (“GSA”) have unlawfully produced TFA’s private materials, including privileged communications, to the Special Counsel’s Office; and (b) although the Special Counsel’s Office was aware that the GSA did not own or control the records in question, the Special Counsel’s Office has extensively used the materials in question, including portions that are susceptible to claims of privilege, and without notifying TFA or taking customary precautions to protect TFA’s rights and privileges;
Transition teams are neither public employee nor are their records subject to the Freedom of Information Act or are they presumed to be held with the National Archives, as would government records–and all of this was spelled out in the memoranda of understanding between the transition team and President Barack Obama’s administration.
The critical event in this saga was the illness and death of Richard W. Beckler, the GSA’s general counsel. Beckler was a legendary GOP lawyer, who once represented CIA Director William J. Casey during the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. Later, Beckler defended former White House National Security Advisor Adm. John M. Poindexter against charges of his obstructing justice.
According to the narrative in the Langhofer letter, Beckler and the transition team lawyers worked together to preserve records and electronic correspondence associated with the transition because of congressional inquiries associated with accusations that the Trump camp had colluded with the Russian government. Present at all of these discussions was Beckler’s deputy Lennard S. “Lenny” Loewentritt, a career GSA attorney.
After discussion and consideration of the issue, Mr. Beckler acknowledged unequivocally to TFA’s legal counsel, in the presence of Mr. Loewentritt, that TFA owned and controlled the PTT emails and data pursuant to the Presidential Transition Act, and that the GSA had no right to access or control the records but was simply serving as TFA’s records custodian. Mr. Beckler assured legal counsel for TFA, again in the presence of Mr. Loewentritt, that any requests for the production of PTT records would, therefore, be routed to legal counsel for TFA. In the meantime, Mr. Beckler agreed to maintain all computer equipment in a secure, locked space within GSA facilities.
Langhofer wrote that there are multiple surviving witnesses and that it was his understanding that Beckler personally informed Mueller that the transition team’s records were not owned or controlled by the GSA and that the Special Counsel’s Office should communicate with TFA if it desired to obtain presidential transition team records.
The interactions between Langhofer, Beckler and Loewentritt, and then Mueller happened June 15 through June 16.
In August, Beckler fell ill and in his absence from the office, Loewentritt coordinated with Mueller’s team give them all of the records upon the receipt of a simple letter of request, not a subpoena nor any court-sanctioned request or warrant. Beckler died Sept. 25 without returning to work.
Despite the highly sensitive nature of this production and its being against the express wishes of the man, who was fighting for his life, and whose job it was to make that decision, the transition team legal team was not informed about the production.
As if to put a fine point on his petition for relief or resolution from the congressional leaders, Langhofer points out that as transition team lawyers were becoming aware of the delivery to Mueller’s office Tuesday and Wednesday, Langhofer wrote that Mueller’s own counsel Brandon Van Grack twice denied over the phone that the delivery had even happened.
At the closed-door July 28 court hearing, where Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos entered his guilty plea and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, it was Van Grack, who represented the special counsel’s office.
Van Grack once clerked for Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who was John W. Dean III’s defense attorney and Van Grack is the twin brother of former Obama White House lawyer Ryan Van Grack, the sister-in-law of Tracy Van Grack and the son of Steven Van Grack, a Maryland malpractice attorney, the former Democratic mayor of Rockville, Maryland and an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress.
Tracy Z. Van Grack is a senior leader at the venture capital firm Revolution, a partner with Higher Ground Labs, the new high-technology venture that is a Who’s Who of Democratic consultants, along with veterans of the Obama White House and 2016 presidential campaign of former first lady Hillary R. Clinton.
— Tracy Z. Van Grack (@tvangrack) July 13, 2017
Read the entire letter here: