ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 elections. Trump's allies have become more critical of the investigation. They're questioning whether some of the investigators are biased against Trump. And now a lawyer affiliated with Trump's transition team is raising concerns about how the special counsel obtained some emails. People on the left worry that this all means the president could be preparing to fire Mueller.
NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now here in the studio to talk about all this. Hey, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.
SHAPIRO: Let's start with that transition team lawyer's claim. What is it?
KEITH: So he wrote a letter to two congressional committees on Saturday alleging that Mueller's team had inappropriately obtained thousands of emails from the transition period that were housed on government servers. The special counsel's spokesperson actually responded - often they don't - and 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.
What's sort of unusual here is that this wasn't a legal challenge presented in court, but instead was sent to Congress. It's sort of more of a political move. And one of the Congressmen, Trey Gowdy, who's the GOP chairman of one of the committees that the letter was sent to, said through a spokesperson that, you know, this is stuff that should be worked out in court, not Congress. As for the White House, a source tells me that the president's personal lawyers as well as White House lawyers only learned about the complaint after the letter was sent and that they were not involved.
SHAPIRO: Aside from the interesting parallel of emails being at the center of a political controversy here, what is the significance of this particular back-and-forth?
KEITH: Well, it's important because these critics are not just calling Mueller's team biased, but they're saying that he's not running the investigation properly. But more than that, this is part of this larger swirl of suspicion that people allied with President Trump outside of the White House are fanning, especially in right-wing media. And an example would be Jean - Jeanine Pirro. She hosts a weekend opinion show on Fox News. And she has been using that show to cast doubt on the Mueller investigation and the FBI as a whole. Here she was this weekend.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JUSTICE WITH JUDGE JEANINE")
JEANINE PIRRO: I doubt in American presidential election history that there has been as great a crime or as large a stain on our democracy than that committed by a criminal cabal in our FBI and the Department of Justice who think they know better than we who our president should be.
KEITH: Now, she is on sort of the extreme end. But people in that realm are able to point to a series of text messages that were recently uncovered that were sent between an FBI agent and FBI - and an FBI lawyer who used to be on Mueller's team. They are no longer. But in those texts, the agent called Trump an idiot. At one point, he also talked about an insurance policy against him winning. We don't know what that means. But just to add, there were also other text messages that were highly critical of a bunch of Democrats, including the former head of the Justice Department.
SHAPIRO: We know that President Trump has called this investigation a witch hunt. He has not attacked Mueller personally. Do we know whether the White House is on board with these criticisms of Mueller's team?
KEITH: Well, officially they are not. Ty Cobb, the president's lawyer, has said again and again to both me and other journalists that the White House is cooperating fully, that the president will be exonerated and that the whole investigation will wrap up soon. But the idea of fomenting criticism against an investigation is not without historical precedent - just look at Clinton or Nixon.
SHAPIRO: And, of course, people on the left are concerned that President Trump could fire Mueller. Is there any evidence that he's planning to do that?
KEITH: He said last night he's not. His lawyer says that there is no consideration. But the level of concern on the left about this is highly elevated, with rumors circulating that it could happen around the holidays. But at this point, people on the right are pushing back, saying those rumors are just wishful thinking.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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