Did Mueller Really Obtain the Trump Emails Illegally? A Primer

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Did Mueller Really Obtain the Trump Emails Illegally? A Primer

“My people are very upset about it.”

That’s what President Donald Trump had to say after Trump supporters and other Republicans began to call for the firing of Robert Mueller, after the White House claimed that Mueller’s team acquired government emails illegally. Lawyers from the Trump transition team say that Mueller’s investigation was granted access to thousands of emails that were meant to be privileged.

CNN reports that Mueller’s team, for its part, is adamant that none of the emails obtained during the course of the investigation were obtained illegally—and the fact that they’re even releasing a statement is a rare and significant move. Axios quotes spokesman Peter Carr as saying “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.”

The emails were obtained by the investigation through the General Services Administration, the government agency that possessed them after the transition process. According to The New York Times, a lawyer for Trump during that process named Kory Langhofer says that those emails were the property of the transition team, and they should have had final say in whether they were given out. Upon learning of this, some Trump advisors (like Kellyanne Conway, always a font of truth) have cried out that the whole investigation must therefore have been rigged from the beginning.

Attacks on Mueller’s credibility have been increasing in frequency and fervor in the last week. Up until now, they have mostly been based on the fact that former members of the investigation were found to have sent texts that expressed strong anti-Trump sentiments. These members of the team were removed, and that satisfied most Republican politicians. But now Republicans have a new batch of emails to endlessly declare to be earthshaking evidence of wrongdoing on the part of their opponents.

Trump continues to say that there are no plans to fire Robert Mueller, despite Republicans in Congress who would support a president firing a bipartisan special counsel during that counsel’s investigation of that president. Democrats and other political figures like Eric Holder have repeatedly made it clear that firing Mueller would be crossing an “absolute red line,” a show of institutional corruption designed to protect the president and his cronies from any consequences.

Regardless of the result, it’s highly doubtful that Mueller’s actions were anywhere near illegal. For one thing, the fault would just as likely lie with the GSA for providing the emails as it would with Mueller’s team. And whether the GSA had the right to provide them or not has not been defined, though Trump supporters certainly seem to think it has. The GSA itself denies Langhofer’s claims that they had agreed to submit any requests to share emails directly to the Trump transition team before clearing them. CNN quotes Lenny Loewentritt saying that materials “would not be held back in any law enforcement” requests. This would seem to imply that the issue here is one of communication between the GSA and the transition team, and one that wouldn’t implicate Mueller’s team at all.

Still, the actual facts matter very little to the Republicans demanding that Mueller be fired. Even Senator John Cornyn, who says he has confidence in Mueller, seems to think that the acquisition of these emails has tainted the investigation. He implied that there seem to be conflicts of interest on the team, and said “There are plenty of F.B.I. agents and prosecutors who have not been politically involved on behalf of Democrats or overtly critical of the president that can serve in this important investigation,” according to NYT.

So now, even the Republicans who say they support Mueller seem to think that anyone “overtly critical” of the president isn’t fit to investigate that president. Because why would anyone be critical of the person they’re investigating? Must be rigged.

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