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Monday, December 18, 2017

The Republicans Are Gunning for Robert Mueller. Will Senator Burr Join Them?

Posted by on Mon, Dec 18, 2017 at 9:25 AM

This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

On Saturday, a lawyer representing Trump for America sent a letter to House and Senate oversight committees complaining about supposed violations of the Fourth Amendment and attorney-client privilege on the part of special counsel Robert Mueller [Politico]. Mueller’s crime: obtaining a trove of transition-team emails from the General Services Administration, which, for some reason or another, appears to have the Trump folks worried.
  • Politico: “Mueller’s office got the records earlier this summer from the General Services Administration, the government agency charged with holding all transition materials, even while it was ‘aware that the GSA did not own or control the records in question,’ Langhofer wrote. The Trump attorney also argued that Mueller’s office has ‘extensively used the materials in question’ during its investigation, even though its prosecutors were aware some of the materials were subject to claims of attorney-client privilege and other protections.”
  • Mueller’s team responds: “Mueller spokesman Peter Carr defended the special counsel’s work in a statement issued just past midnight on Sunday, several hours after this story first posted. ‘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,’ he said.” (Notice the use of the word “criminal”—twice in one statement.)

WHAT IT MEANS: Trump’s argument here is laughable, according to the legal experts interviewed in the stories I’ve read on the dust-up. These were government emails, with government addresses, stores on government servers. There shouldn’t have been any expectation of privacy. But the point isn’t to show that Mueller behaved improperly; he almost certainly didn’t. Rather, it’s yet another part of a broader campaign to delegitimize the Russia investigation.
  • Politico: “A Republican offensive seemingly aimed at discrediting some of the top agents working with Mueller has intensified amid signs his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election has crept closer to Trump's inner circle. Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a Trump ally, described the FBI on Saturday as a ‘crime family’ and said some of the agents involved in the Russia probe should be jailed. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who joined her show, called her comments ‘perfect.’ Fox News ran a banner that day questioning whether the probe amounted to ‘A Coup in America?’ Also on Saturday, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, called for Mueller to ‘clean house of partisans.’”
  • Yesterday, Trump told reporters he’s not planning to fire Mueller [WaPo]. (Technically, he’d have to ask the deputy attorney general to fire Mueller; if he refused, Trump would have to fire him and keep going down the chain until he found someone willing to do the deed.)
  • Still, Trump is using this latest imbroglio to try to cast aspersions on the special counsel [NYT]: “‘Not looking good, it’s not looking good—it’s quite sad to see that, my people were very upset about it,’ Mr. Trump said on Sunday when asked about the emails. ‘I can’t imagine there’s anything on them, frankly, because, as we’ve said, there’s no collusion, no collusion whatsoever.’”
  • The Republicans, especially in the House, are beginning to rally around this cause, arguing that Mueller is somehow corrupted and can’t be trusted to fairly probe the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia. But so far, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, hasn’t given any indication that he will do as the president wants and back off.

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