An organisation established for the US president's transition to the White House a year ago says Robert Mueller's team investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election obtained thousands of emails "unlawfully."

President Donald Trump gestures as he talks to the media on South Lawn of the White House in Washington, US, before his departure to Camp David. December 16, 2017.
President Donald Trump gestures as he talks to the media on South Lawn of the White House in Washington, US, before his departure to Camp David. December 16, 2017. (Yuri Gripas / Reuters)

Several people familiar with President Donald Trump's transition organisation Trump for America (TFA) say special counsel Robert Mueller's team has gained access to thousands of private emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration.

The investigators did not directly request the records from the transition team and may have raised legal issues by obtaining the messages from a separate federal agency.

Kory Langhofer, counsel to Trump for America, sent letters on Saturday to Congress saying Mueller's investigation was provided "unauthorised disclosure" of transition records by the General Services Administration (GSA). The agency often stores presidential transition records on its computers.

The people familiar with the transition spoke on condition of anonymity because of the records' sensitivity. They say the materials included communications from more than a dozen Trump officials, including Michael Flynn.

Privileged communications

Langhofer wrote a letter to congressional committees to say Mueller's team had improperly received the emails from the GSA.

Career staff members at the agency "unlawfully produced TFA’s private materials, including privileged communications, to the Special Counsel’s Office," according to the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters. It said the materials included "tens of thousands of emails."

Trump's transition team used facilities of the GSA, which helps manage the US government bureaucracy, in the period between the Republican's November presidential election victory and his inauguration in January.

The Trump team's accusation adds to the growing friction between the president's supporters and Mueller's office as it investigates whether Russia interfered in the election and if Trump or anyone on his team colluded with Moscow.

Asked for comment, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: "We continue to cooperate fully with the special counsel and expect this process to wrap up soon."

The GSA and officials at the special counsel's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘Trump allies discredit Muller’s investigation’

Democrats say there is a wide-ranging effort by the president’s allies on Capitol Hill and in some media outlets to discredit Mueller’s investigation.

Trump himself has loudly declared Mueller's effort a waste of time.

"There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven," Trump told reporters on Friday. Russia denies interfering in the election.

An AP fact check points out:

“Nothing has been proved. It's true that collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russians has not been established, as far as is publicly known. It's not true that collusion has been ruled out, by Democrats or others. The most they've said is that they have not seen firm evidence of it so far. It can't be ruled out because Russia's interference in the election and the Trump team's contacts with Russians are still under criminal investigation by the special counsel and the subject of continuing congressional inquiries. "That's it" is premature.”

On Friday, Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said he fears the committee’s Republican majority intends to close its investigation of the topic prematurely. Some Republicans have argued that Mueller is biased against Trump and should be fired.

'GSA did not own records requested by Mueller'

The TFA letter was sent to the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, and the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The letter said Mueller's office obtained the emails despite the fact that it was aware the GSA did not own or control the records. It said the special counsel's office has "extensively used the materials in question, including portions that are susceptible to claims of privilege" without notifying the TFA team.

On the transition team were a number of aides who were later caught up in Mueller's investigation, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn who pleaded guilty this month to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

Langhofer wrote in his letter that the GSA's transfer of materials was discovered on December 12 and 13.

The FBI had requested the materials from GSA staff last August 23, asking for copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones and other materials associated with nine members of the Trump transition team responsible for national security and policy matters, the letter said.

On August 30, the FBI requested the materials of four additional senior members of the Trump transition team, it said.

Langhofer argued that while such transition teams are involved in executive functions, they are considered private, non-profit organizations whose records are private and not subject to presidential records laws.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies