A career lawyer with the General Services Administration is being accused by the Trump transition team of illegally turning over thousands of emails to the office of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Lenny Loewentritt told Buzzfeed News that the GSA, an agency set up to manage basic functions of government, including tech equipment and IT, did not act improperly in turning over the emails to Mueller. And the Special Counsel’s Office is also denying any wrongdoing.
Axios first reported Saturday that Mueller had obtained “many tens of thousands” of emails from the Trump transition team. Later that day, Fox News reported that a lawyer for the Trump transition team had sent a letter to Congress claiming that the emails were turned over without their knowledge and in violation of an agreement made between the GSA and the transition. The emails were sent by top Trump officials using ptt.gov accounts.
Kory Langhofer, the lawyer for Trump for America Inc., also known as the Presidential Transition Team, wrote in the letter that some of the emails contain attorney-client communications. Langhofer argued that the GSA “did not own or control the records in question.” He said career staff at the GSA, “have unlawfully produced (transition team) private materials, including privileged communications, to the Special Counsel’s Office. … And 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 (the transition team) or taking customary precautions to protect (the transition team’s) rights and privileges.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Transition Team Says the GSA Had Agreed Any Requests for Documents Would Be Routed to Trump’s Legal Counsel
Trump transition team attorney Kory Langhofer says Lenny Loewentritt and other career staffers at the GSA violated an agreement made by now-deceased General Counsel Richard Beckler to not turn over any documents, emails, technology or other materials without going through the team’s legal counsel.
Langhofer wrote that the Beckler, a Trump appointee, “acknowledged unequivocally to (the transition team’s) legal counsel, in the presence of Mr. Loewentritt, that (the transition) 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 (the team’s) records custodian.”
Beckler “assured legal counsel” that “any requests for the production of PTT records would therefore be routed to legal counsel (for the transition.)
Beckler was “hospitalized and incapacitated” in August 2017. According to The Associated Press, the GSA turned over the thousands of emails on a flash drive on September 1 after requests from Mueller’s office in late August.
The transition team learned about the “unauthorized disclosures” by the GSA on December 12 and 13 according to the letter.
You can read the full letter below:
Langhofer is also claiming in the letter that the transition team is “an independent nonprofit organization” that is not controlled by and doesn’t share employees with the White House, the GSA and other federal agencies. He wrote in the letter to Congress that the team is funded partially by congressional appropriation, but also by private contributions, and most personnel “are volunteers, acting in their personal capacity” in the “mission of peacefully and efficiently transferring executive power.”
The GSA provided “furniture, furnishings, office machines and equipment and office supplies” to the transition team, and also “hosted email services.”
Langhofer wrote, “Communications infrastructure and other platforms supplied by the GSA to a presidential transition team (e.g. email accounts) are solely for the convenience and assistance of the transition team; they plainly are not a mechanism for a federal agency to commandeer the confidential documents of a private, nonprofit organization.”
He said the transition told personnel that “emails are properly considered private records.”
Langhofer is requesting that Congress “act immediately to protect future presidential transitions from having their private records misappropriate by government agencies, particularly in the context of sensitive investigations intersecting with political motives.”
2. Loewentritt Told Buzzfeed News the Trump Transition Team Had ‘No Expectation of Privacy’ & No Agreement to Withhold the Emails Was Made
Loewentritt told Buzzfeed News that “Beckler never made that commitment,” about the claim made in the Trump transition team’s letter.
Loewentritt told Buzzfeed that “in using our devices,” the transition team members were told materials “would not be held back in any law enforcement” actions.
He also said that team members agreed that there would be monitoring and auditing of devices, and “therefore, no expectation of privacy can be assumed.”
Loewentritt said the GSA initially “suggested a warrant or subpoena” for the emails, but the Special Counsel’s Office instead determined a letter requesting the emails was sufficient. Any issues with how the materials were turned over is “between the Special Counsel and the transition team,” Loewentritt told Buzzfeed.
A source told Axios that the transition team is asking for Mueller to return the emails, saying attorneys would then turn over vetted emails to investigators. “What they did is totally illegal, and they need to fix it,” the source told Axios on Sunday.
Peter Carr, the spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office, said in a statement, “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.”
3. He Has Worked at the GSA Since 1972 & Is Currently Deputy General Counsel
Lennard Loewentritt has worked at the General Services Administration for 45 years, since 1972, and is currently the deputy general counsel for the agency, according to his Linkedin profile.
As is expected for a career staff attorney for a relatively unknown agency, Loewentritt has maintained a low public profile during his several decades in the government.
He did take part in an OGE Institute for Ethics in Government discussion about ethics recommendations for a new administration in March 2016. You can watch video of that discussion above or here.
4. He Graduated From the University of Wisconsin & Studied Law at American University
Loewentritt graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, according to his Linkedin profile. He is originally from New York and went to the Bronx High School of Science, according to his Facebook page.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Loewentritt studied law at American University. He began his career at GSA after finishing law school. He currently lives in Washington, D.C.
5. Mueller Is Using the Emails to ‘Confirm Things & Get New Leads’ Through the 200,000 Emails, Which Contain Gossip, Strategy and Policy Planning, Axios Reports
A source told Axios that Robert Mueller and the Special Counsel’s Office are “using the emails to confirm things and get new leads.”
According to Axios, “The transition emails are said to include sensitive exchanges on matters that include potential appointments, gossip about the views of particular senators involved in the confirmation process, speculation about vulnerabilities of Trump nominees, strategizing about press statements, and policy planning on everything from war to taxes.”
In the letter to Congress, Kory Langhofer wrote, “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.”
He said that is a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
According to Fox News, the emails turned over to Mueller include those sent and received by 13 senior transition team officials, including Jared Kushner and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI and is now cooperating with the investigation.