WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told reporters he's not considering firing Robert Mueller, even as his lawyers accused the special counsel of illegally collecting tens of thousands of emails from Trump's presidential transition team.
"No. I am not," Trump said when asked if he was considering such a move. Of the emails, Trump said, "I can't imagine there's anything on them, frankly. Because, as we said, there's no collusion."
The emails in question came from the computers of 13 senior Trump transition officials and cover the period from the time Trump was elected in early November 2016 to when he took office Jan. 20, 2017. The messages include discussions about national security and Trump's possible initial international goals, along with assessments of would-be appointees to the new administration.
A spokesman for the special prosecutor defended the legality of the collection.
"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 spokesman said early Sunday.
Mueller asked the General Services Administration, the government agency that manages federal property where the Trump transition team worked and whose computers it used, for the emails. The agency, without informing the Trump transition team, turned them over September 1.
Kory Langhofer, a lawyer representing the transition team called Trump for America, complained Saturday to Senate and House of Representatives oversight committees that Mueller had gotten the emails, even though it was "aware that the GSA did not own or control the records in question."
The Trump attorney said Mueller's prosecutors have "extensively used the materials in question" in their ongoing probe of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to help him defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Langhofer said prosecutors were aware that some of the materials were protected from disclosure because they involved private discussions between Trump transition attorneys and officials working on the transition to power.
Asked for comment about the emails, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "We continue to cooperate fully with the special counsel and expect this process to wrap up soon."
White House officials say there is no consideration being given to firing Mueller. One key Republican lawmaker, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said Sunday it would be a "mistake" for Trump to oust him, although some Republicans have called for Mueller's dismissal.
Mueller's months-long investigation has already resulted in guilty pleas from two Trump aides — former national security adviser Michael Flynn and foreign adviser George Papadopoulos — for lying to federal investigations about their contacts with Russian officials. The investigation has also led to the indictments of two former key campaign officials — Michael Manafort and Rick Gates — in connection with their lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predates Trump's successful run to the White House.
Trump has regularly disparaged the Mueller and congressional investigations of his campaign's links to Russia, and Republicans have increasingly criticized the Mueller probe as biased against Trump. Mueller dismissed one key FBI investigator from the probe when it was discovered he had exchanged negative comments about Trump in emails with another FBI official connected to the probe.
"There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven," Trump told reporters Friday, although none of the investigations has been concluded.
Mueller also is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey in May. Comey was leading the Russia investigation before Mueller was named to replace him.
Comey testified to a congressional panel that before he was fired, Trump urged him to drop his investigation of Flynn, a former Army general who served in Trump's White House for less than a month before Trump fired him for lying to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the transition period.