At least 22 phones used by members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team had all of their data wiped before an official could review the devices for records, according to documents released on Sept. 10 by the Department of Justice.
Some of the phones were wiped by accident. Others were reset after the users entered the wrong password too many times. A phone belonging to assistant special counsel James Quarles “wiped itself without intervention from him,” according to the documents (pdf).
Quarles didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
Andrew Weissmann, a key figure in the 22-month investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, wiped his phone twice, once by accident and once by entering the wrong password too many times. Weissmann also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Inspector General (IG) had in 2018 detailed an extensive effort to recover the text messages from the special counsel phones used by FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page. The phones had both been wiped before the IG investigators found them.
The documents released on Sept. 10 show that the problem of vanishing data spanned far beyond Strzok and Page. The special counsel’s office had a process in place to check employees’ phones for records, including as part of exit procedures. A records officer kept a log of the reviews which documented how many records were on each phone and whether the device was wiped.
The records officer’s log shows seven of the phones were wiped by accident and 11 others were wiped because employees forgot their passwords. The rest were wiped with no reason listed and for other reasons.
The wiping of so many phones by attorneys and investigators working the highest-profile investigation in the United States is sure to raise concerns that the deleted data may have contained evidence of improper or criminal conduct. One FBI attorney who was discovered to have sent text messages that were biased against Trump has since pleaded guilty in federal court to a false statement charge in connection to an email he forged.
Page and Strzok texted each other about their hatred of Trump, wanting to stop him from becoming president, and an “insurance policy” in the event he was elected. Strzok was removed from the special counsel’s office when the IG informed Mueller about the messages. With the exception of Page’s phone, all of the phones were wiped in the months after the messages between Page and Strzok were made public in early 2018.
The DOJ IG didn’t find evidence that the bias displayed in the text messages had an impact on any of the investigative decisions by the Crossfire Hurricane team.
Mueller was appointed in May 2017 to take over the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane. As part of the probe, the FBI obtained a warrant to spy on a former Trump campaign adviser by using an unverified dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. The Hillary Clinton campaign ultimately paid for Steele’s work on the dossier.
A review of Mueller’s phone turned up no records, according to the documents.
Correction: Previous versions of this article incorrectly stated the total number of phones wiped, the number of phones Andrew Weissmann wiped and the total number of phones used by the special counsel’s office. The Epoch Times regrets the errors.