Report suggests Mueller team “accidentally” wiped phones before DOJ could review them

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Recently released records indicate that multiple cell phones belonging to members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team were wiped of information before the DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG) had the opportunity to examine them.

The OIG launched an investigation after a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch in September 2019.  Judicial watch had earlier made a Freedom of Information request of both the DOJ and the FBI regarding “The Electronic Communication that initiated the counterintelligence investigation of President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.”

When the DOJ and FBI were not forthcoming with the information as requested, Judicial Watch filed suit.

Fox News reports that “at least several dozen phones” were cleared of information due to various causes, including “forgotten passcodes, irreparable screen damage, loss of the device, intentional deletion or other reasons.”

Indeed, review of the records shows that special counsel attorney and lead Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissman “[e]ntered password too many times and wiped his phone.”

Assistant Special Counsel James Quarles’ phone reportedly “wiped itself with no intervention from him.”

Assistant Special Counsel Greg Andres, identified in the document as “Greg Andre,” had a phone that was “wiped due to a forgotten password.”

Attorney Kyle Freeny’s phone was “accidentally wiped prior to records review.”

Attorney Rush Atkinson’s phone “was wiped on 11/29/2018 by accident after input of passcode to (sic) many times.”

The phone belonging to ex-FBI attorney Lisa Page, who famously carried on an extramarital affair with FBI head of counterintelligence Peter Strzok while the pair exchanged anti-Trump messages, was “restored to factory settings when [the DOJ] received it.”

Among the members of the investigative committee whose names were redacted in the document, multiple phones had had the password entered too many times, resulting in the phone being wiped, and many were wiped due to forgotten passcodes.

Many others were wiped “by accident.”

Some of the phones were reported as “wiped” without further explanation.

For other phones, some data was “deleted” before the DOJ obtained the units.

Also in some cases, the phone was left in airplane mode and an incorrect password was entered or a password was not available, which reportedly meant that the phone “had to be wiped.”

It is not clear how many of the team members own iPhones.  However, it is important to note that it actually takes a fair amount of effort to make an iPhone wipe itself after too many password entries. 

According to Business Insider, there is a feature “[h]idden deep inside your phone’s settings” that allows erasure of all phone data after 10 failed passcode attempts.

But that isn’t really as easy as it sounds.

First, one must go into settings, then to Touch ID (now known as Face ID in current Operating Systems) and Passwords, and then click on “Erase Data” to set up the phone to be wiped after 10 incorrect password attempts.

Even after this setup, there is still a certain amount of work and time needed for the phone to wipe automatically.

According to Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, as quoted by Business Insider:

“After the 5th failed attempt, iOS requires a 1-minute timeout before you can try again. During this timeout the only thing you can do is place an emergency call to 911.

“After the 6th attempt, you get a 5-minute timeout. After the 7th, 15 minutes. 

“These timeouts escalate such that it would take over 3 hours to enter 10 incorrect passcodes.”

So it appears that, at least for one of the reasons given for the wiped phones, team members would have had to take special, lengthy pains to wipe their phones if they owned an iPhone, if the forgotten password scenarios are true.

In the words of the Federalist’s Sean Davis, who first released the incriminating records:

“What are the actual probabilities of more than a dozen top Mueller officials all ‘accidentally’ nuking their phones or accidentally putting them in airplane mode, locking them, and ‘forgetting’ their passwords so the DOJ OIG couldn’t access and examine them?

“Negative 100,000%?”

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Here is our original report on the results of the Mueller investigation:

Washington D.C. has been on edge all weekend long – along with many Americans – awaiting the release of the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s completed Russia probe.

Today, Attorney General William Barr dropped a four-page letter to Capitol Hill lawmakers with the “principal conclusions”.

The letter definitely stated that Mueller did NOT find evidence that President Trump’s team or any associates of the Trump campaign had conspired with Russia — “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

Mueller’s team specifically dove into two Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.

The first was the work by a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency (IRA).  That effort was to “conduct disinformation and social media operations” designed to “sow discord” in the U.S.”

Barr’s letter stated:

“The special counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its effort” to interfere with the 2016 presidential election in that manner.”

Second, Mueller’s team investigated whether the Trump team was involved in the hacking of emails.  Many of those emails were released publicly and belonged to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“The Special Counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated” with Russians who worked on those hacking efforts, according to Barr’s letter, “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

As far as “obstruction of justice”, Mueller’s report didn’t reach a conclusion and left that decision to Barr and officials at the Department of Justice to determine.

With that said, Mueller “recognized,” according to Barr’s letter, that the lack of evidence that Trump was involved in collusion would undercut any obstruction case. That case, he said, would depend on showing a corrupt intent by the president.

“The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” according to Barr’s letter.

“Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.”

Here’s how Barr’s letter concluded:

“After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues… Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

“Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president,” Barr stated.

Barr added:

“The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does no exonerate him.'”

It’s a nearly complete vindication for President Donald Trump, who has tweeted more than 230 times that he and his team did NOT collude with Russians.

Barr said he was satisfied that Mueller’s team had “thoroughly” investigated allegations that Trump’s team sought to conspire with Russians or obstruct investigators. 

It was not for lack of effort.  Mueller had employed 19 laywers and 40 FBI agents.  He executed 10 pen registers, hundreds of search warrants and interviewed some 500 witnesses… to the tune of millions of dollars in taxpayer money and the demands of Democrats.  The investigation, which took 22-months and ensnared six former Trump advisors and associates, resulted in no indictments related to collusion with Russia.

Democrats on Sunday didn’t care.  They vowed to press on with other investigations.  Both parties are pushing for the public release of as much of the Mueller report as possible.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.  He said Sunday he doesn’t care.  He believes there’s “significant evidence of collusion” linking the Russian government with President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and said Democrats will probably subpoena Mueller if the full report isn’t released.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., also doubled down today:

“So we know a lot of things and maybe it’s not indictable, but we know there was collusion. The question is the degree.”

On Saturday, a top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee conceded that the release of Mueller’s conclusions will most likely lead to a huge celebration of Trump’s supporters, who have stood by the President for more than two years despite unceasing and unproven allegations that his campaign worked with Russia.

“It’s the end of the beginning but it’s not the beginning of the end,” Delaware Sen. Chris Coons said.  But he said it’s time to dive into other probes of Trump’s financial dealings. 

“Once we get the principal conclusions of the report,” he added later, “I think it’s entirely possible that that will be a good day for the president and his core supporters.”

He said it’s now up to Congress.

“The job of Congress is much broader than the job of the special counsel,” Nadler said. “The special counsel is looking and can only look for crimes. We have to protect the rule of law, we have to look for abuses of power, we have to look for obstructions of justice, we have to look for corruption in the exercise of power which may not be crimes.”

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins, R-Ga., said good luck in uncovering things that Mueller couldn’t.

“As we’ve seen in the first two months of this Congress, [Democrats] really don’t have a policy agenda,” Collins said.

“They have an agenda against the President. They have an agenda to try and win 2020.

And so, what we’re seeing is, they think that they can go into the Judiciary Committee or any other committee and have a limited budget, limited subpoena power, limited staff and go up against an investigation that lasted 22 months, had unlimited power, unlimited subpoena power, had plenty of investigators — and they think they can find something more than what they did, then I think they’re sadly mistaken.”

 

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