The House Oversight Committee said Sunday that it will not fulfill a request this weekend by a lawyer for the Trump presidential transition team to look into whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office inappropriately obtained transition documents as part of its Russia probe, saying the matter should be decided by the courts.
A committee spokeswoman told Fox News that the key issues raised in the request — and included in a letter received from attorney Kory Langhofer — should be “decided by the court . . . not Congress.”
“The central issues raised are fact-specific legal issues which involve issues of privilege, waiver … standing to assert claims of privacy, expectations of privacy and the reasonableness thereof, third-party consent … among other issues,” the spokeswoman said.
Langhofer asked Congress to “act immediately to protect future presidential transitions from having their private records misappropriated by government agencies, particularly in the context of sensitive investigations intersecting with political motives.”
Despite declining the request, the House committee acknowledged the request “raises issues on how to improve subsequent transitions and therefore “takes the letter under advisement.”
The request also was made to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has yet to respond to a request for comment.
Trump wouldn’t tell reporters Sunday night upon returning from Camp David whether he thought the emails were improperly obtained but said, “a lot of lawyers thought it was pretty sad.”
Langhofer argues in the letter, obtained Saturday by Fox News, that Mueller’s team, without the transition team’s knowledge, “inappropriately” obtained such information as confidential attorney-client communications, privileged communications and thousands of emails.
He also alleges “unlawful conduct” by the career staff at the General Services Administration in giving the transition documents to the special counsel’s office.
Langhofer, the counsel to Trump for America, argues the GSA “did not own or control the records in question” and the release of documents could be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
He wrote that the GSA handed over “tens of thousands of emails” to Mueller’s probe without “any notice” to the transition.
He also told Congress in the letter that the GSA’s actions “impair the ability of future presidential transition teams to candidly discuss policy and internal matters that benefit the country as a whole.”
Langhofer said they discovered the “unauthorized disclosures” by the GSA on Dec. 12 and 13 and raised concerns with the special counsel’s office.
Mueller was appointed as special counsel to lead a Justice Department probe into whether Trump associates colluded with Moscow to influence the outcome of the 2016 White House race.
The GSA in September reportedly turned over a flash drive containing tens of thousands of records, after receiving requests from Mueller’s office in late August.
Those records included emails sent and received by 13 senior Trump transition officials. Among the officials who used transition email accounts was former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to a count of making false statements to FBI agents in January and is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
“We understand that the special counsel’s office has subsequently made extensive use of the materials it obtained from the GSA, including materials that are susceptible to privilege claims,” Langhofer wrote. He added that some of the records obtained by the special counsel’s office from the GSA “have been leaked to the press by unknown persons.”
He said the special counsel’s office also received laptops, cellphones and at least one iPad from the GSA.
Trump for America is the nonprofit organization that facilitated the transition between former President Barack Obama to President Trump.
The GSA, an agency of the United States government, provided the transition team with office space and hosted its email servers.
“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,” Peter Carr, spokesman for the special counsel’s office, told Fox News.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News on Saturday evening, GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt denied Langhofer’s claim that then-GSA General Counsel Richard Beckler had promised that any requests for transition team records would be “routed to legal counsel for” Trump for America.
Loewentritt also said transition team members were warned that information “would not be held back in any law enforcement” investigation and that “no expectation of privacy can be assumed.”
(Langhofer’s letter notes that Beckler “was hospitalized and incapacitated in August.” He died the following month.)
Loewentritt also said the GSA suggested that Mueller’s team issue a warrant or subpoena for the transition team materials, but the special prosecutor’s office decided a letter requesting the materials would suffice.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Saturday said: “We continue to cooperate fully with the special counsel and expect this process to wrap up soon.”
Fox News’ John Roberts, Alex Pappas, Jennifer Bowman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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