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Mueller departs a closed-door Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in June. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Officials of President Trump's transition team plan to ask Special Counsel Robert Mueller to return "many tens of thousands" of transition emails they contend were unlawfully provided to him. But the prosecutor's office says emails being used in the investigation were properly obtained.

President Trump, returning to the White House on Sunday,

said when asked about the emails: "Not looking good. It's not looking good. It's quite sad to see that. My people are very upset about it. I can't imagine there's anything on 'em, frankly, because as we said, there's no collusion. There's no collusion whatsoever. A lot of lawyers thought that was pretty sad."

What's new: A source close to Trump's transition, which still exists as a legal entity so it can shut down what was once a 1,000-person operation, said the transition will send a letter to Mueller informing him that some of the emails are privileged, and asking for their return. The transition says it is willing to provide Mueller with vetted emails.

The source told me: "What they did is totally illegal, and they need to fix it."

But Peter Carr, spokesman for the Special Counsel's Office, told Axios early this morning: "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."

Be smart: Republicans, who have been raising increasing questions about Mueller's office, are prepared to argue that if emails were obtained by questionable means, that could taint or undermine the investigation.

What happened: Axios reported yesterday afternoon that officials of Trump's Presidential Transition Team, his office for the 73 days between the election and the inauguration, discovered that Mueller had obtained huge caches of emails from the General Services Administration, the government agency that hosted the transition's "ptt.gov" emails.

  • What's at stake: We're told that the fight involves emails from the accounts of 12 officials, including members of the political leadership and foreign-policy team. One of the accounts alone includes 7,000 emails.
  • Trump officials discovered Mueller had the emails when his prosecutors used them as the basis for questions to witnesses, the sources said.
  • GSA declined to comment.

Why it matters: The transition emails are said to include sensitive exchanges on matters such as 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.

  • "Mueller is using the emails to confirm things, and get new leads," a transition source told me.
  • Taking the fight public: Charging "unlawful conduct," Kory Langhofer, counsel for the transition team, wrote in a letter to congressional committees Saturday that "career staff at the General Services Administration ... have unlawfully produced [transition team] private materials, including privileged communications, to the Special Counsel's Office."
  • The seven-page letter, obtained by Axios, says: "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."
  • The letter says this was a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
  • "Additionally, certain portions of the [transition] materials the Special Counsel's Office obtained from the GSA, including materials that are susceptible to privilege claims, have been leaked to the press by unknown persons."

Go deeper: 7-page PDF of the letter.

Editor's Note: Get more stories like this by signing up for our daily morning newsletter, Axios AM.

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Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

Texas abortion law remains in effect after appeals court ruling

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court as arguments begin about the Texas abortion law on Capitol Hill in November. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court transferred a challenge to Texas' law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy to the state supreme court in a 2-1 vote on Monday evening.

Why it matters: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision means the country's most restrictive abortion law can remain in place for the time being.

5 hours ago - World

At least 2 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least two people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Monday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Axios over the phone that two people had been confirmed to have died in the disaster.