Donald Trump's transition team orders former aides to preserve Russia-related materials

Former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller testifying during a hearing of the US Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on May 16, 2013.
Former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller testifying during a hearing of the US Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on May 16, 2013.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Members of President Donald Trump's transition team were ordered Thursday (June 15) to preserve documents and other materials related to the investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

The memo, from the transition team's general counsel's office, is the latest indication that the investigation's special counsel, the former FBI director Robert Mueller, is casting a wide net in his inquiry into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow.

The memo says former transition team members "have a duty to preserve any physical and electronic records that may be related in any way to the subject matter of the pending investigations."

The so-called preservation order covers any transition team information involving Russia or Ukraine. It also seeks any background investigation records involving the former manager of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort, and his business partner, Rick Gates; the former foreign policy adviser Carter Page; and the former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn was fired for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of a call with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

The memorandum also names Roger Stone, an informal adviser to Trump.

With the order, the transition team lawyers are indicating that they have reason to believe that the five men's actions are part of investigations by the Justice Department or the House or Senate Intelligence Committees, or will be.

All five of the men named in the memo, except for Gates, had been previously linked to investigations by the FBI or Congress.

 

Gates said late Thursday that he was not aware of the memo. He added, "At this time, I have not been contacted by any law enforcement organisation in connection with the Russia investigations."

The order came on the same day that it was revealed that Pence had retained a criminal defence lawyer to represent him in the various investigations encircling the White House.

Among its other requests, the memo also orders that any records be preserved about foreign travel by transition officials or personnel of Trump's presidential campaign.

"With this in mind," the memo said, "please immediately suspend any deletion, modification, overwriting, or other possible destruction of the information described above, including electronic information, and take all reasonable measures to preserve this information." It directs recipients to turn over relevant documents to the presidential transition team.

While the memo does not say so, it is the type of notice that organisations distribute after receiving a preservation order from the Justice Department - an order that all documents be preserved at the beginning of an inquiry in case investigators someday want to see them. Lawyers sometimes send these notices on their own in anticipation of such an order.

The memo alerts Trump's former transition aides that "failure to follow these protocols could result in criminal or civil penalties, and could form the basis of legal claims, legal presumptions, or jury instructions relating to spoliation of evidence."

Earlier on Thursday, the president had lashed out on Twitter about the investigation, calling it "the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people!"

The document request illustrated the seriousness of the inquiry being conducted by Mueller and investigators in Congress, and how deeply they are delving into Trump's activities and those of his associates.

Last month, the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is running its own investigation of possible links between the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the election, also asked the president's transition team to collect and preserve all documents and materials related to Russia. The request covered the entire length of the campaign and transition, from June 2015 when Trump first announced his candidacy, to the inauguration on Jan 20.