Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Friday requested records and answers from the heads of the Justice Department and the FBI about the wiping of data from a large number of smartphones used by members of the special counsel team run by Robert Mueller, who was investigating alleged collusion between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia.
“Moreover, based on this new information, the number of times and the stated reasons for the deletions calls into question whether or not it was a widespread intentional effort.”
The log shows that data was completely wiped from 22 iPhones, including at least two which were wiped twice. On 11 occasions, special counsel employees said they wiped the data on their phones by accident. On seven other occasions, employees wiped their devices claiming they input the wrong password too many times causing the phone to wipe itself.
The FBI and the DOJ did not respond to requests for comment.
Grassley is asking the DOJ to provide an unredacted version of the documents released on Thursday. He is also requesting all of the records from government phones used by Mueller’s staff and any records relating to the explanation for why each employee deleted the data from their phones. The senator is also inquiring if the matter is under investigation and whether the DOJ has attempted to forensically recover data from the phones.
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.
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 wiping of so many phones by employees working on what was at the time 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 President Donald Trump has since pleaded guilty in federal court to a false statement charge in connection to an email he forged.
“Congress and the American people are owed answers regarding Special Counsel Mueller and his team,” Grassley wrote.