Besides 22 Wiped Devices, 44 Mueller Team iPhones Had Zero Records

Besides 22 Wiped Devices, 44 Mueller Team iPhones Had Zero Records
Then-FBI official Peter Strzok confers with his legal counsel before a joint committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 12, 2018. Alex Edelman/Getty Images
Ivan Pentchoukov

Forty-four iPhones used by members of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation contained no records when they were examined by an officer assigned to the team, according to internal documents.

Five more Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) phones contained only one record each, and four others contained fewer than 10 records per device, according to a log kept by a records officer over the course of more than 20 months.

The lack of records on the phones is extraordinary given the immense scope of the probe. It is also suspicious considering that at least 22 phones belonging to members of the Mueller team were wiped, with employees offering questionable explanations for the erasures.

Under U.S. law, government records are defined as “all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a federal agency under federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business  and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States government or because of the informational value of data in them.”

Of the 92 unique iPhones used by the Mueller team, only 12 contained a significant number of records, an Epoch Times review of available records determined.

Two well-known members of the Mueller team, FBI attorney Lisa Page and Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok mentioned sending and clearing iMessages from their SCO iPhones on more than one occasion.

“Clear imsg ...” Strzok wrote to Page on June 5, 2017, and again on June 8.

Apple’s iMessage service utilizes the internet data network to send messages that bypass the cellular carrier’s text message service. As a result, when the SCO asked Verizon to check how many text messages Strzok and Page sent during their tenure on the Mueller team, Verizon said that none were sent, but noted that data did leave the device.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 19, 2013. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 19, 2013. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The records officer, who isn’t identified in the documents, noted that Strzok’s phone contained “no substantive texts, notes or reminders.” Page’s phone went missing under questionable circumstances after she left the Mueller team. When it was recovered more than a year later, the device was already wiped.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), of which the SCO was a part, is bound by laws and regulations to preserve records and prevent them from being destroyed.
The DOJ’s “Records Management” page notably contains a statutory definition of what a record is that has been outdated since late 2014, when the relevant legislation was amended by Congress. The page also incorrectly attributes the definition to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The outdated language came from Congress.

The DOJ didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The iPhones that had no records belonged to some of the key members of the special counsel team, including Mueller himself, deputy special counsel Aaron Zebley, FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, and Andrew Weissman.

Clinesmith pleaded guilty in August to one false statement charge in connection to an email he forged while serving as the primary FBI attorney assigned to the SCO. He edited the email as part of the process for preparing a secret-court application for a warrant to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser.

Clinesmith, Page, and Strzok were among a group of officials who worked on the investigation of the Trump campaign and expressed intense bias against Trump. Strzok, who maintained an extramarital relationship with Page, spoke of stopping Trump from becoming president, mentioned an “insurance policy” in the unlikely case Trump won the election, and mused about impeachment around the time he joined Mueller’s team.

“I am so stressed about what I could have done differently,” Clinesmith wrote to his FBI colleague Sally Moyer on the day after Trump’s victory in November 2016. “I’m just devastated.”

“Plus, my [expletive] name is all over the legal documents investigating his staff,” he wrote a few messages later.

Messages from the trio offered the public an extraordinary glimpse into the nature of the investigation and now raise questions about why more than dozens of other Mueller team phones turned up with no records.

Former FBI Lawyer Lisa Page arrives to testify before a House Judiciary Committee closed-door meeting on July 13, 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Former FBI Lawyer Lisa Page arrives to testify before a House Judiciary Committee closed-door meeting on July 13, 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The records officer assigned to the Mueller team reviewed some of the phones more than once. As a result, some of the phones were recorded as having no records at one point and as having been wiped on another occasion. For purposes of clarity, such phones were counted toward the 22 which were wiped and not part of the 42 which had no records.

Some of the phones, such as the one belonging to Strzok, were reviewed for records as part of the exit procedure, wiped, and reassigned to another SCO member. Four of these reassigned phones also had no records when they were checked after being used by a new employee. One of the reassigned phones had one record.

Thirteen of the phones that were logged as having three or fewer records were each also wiped on separate occasions.

For example, the phone belonging to Weissmann, who has been described as the architect of the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, contained no records when it was reviewed on March 28, 2019. Prior to that, Weissmann wiped his phone twice, in March and September 2018, claiming he erased it by accident on one occasion and by entering the wrong password too many times on another.

Members of Mueller’s team offered similar explanations to Weissmann’s for wiping their phones. At least two told the records officer that their phones wiped themselves.

In addition to the 22 wiped iPhones, five phones were improperly handed to the DOJ Office of Chief Information Officer and wiped before the SCO records officer could review them for records, according to the documents.

Mueller took over the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign in May 2017. The special counsel operated with Trump in the White House and with the near-certain prospect that each employee’s actions would eventually be reviewed either by the Congress or the DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG was in regular contact with the SCO beginning less than a month after Mueller’s appointment and throughout 2018, documents show.

The IG interviewed SCO staff in 2018 as it searched for Page’s missing iPhone. With the exception of Strzok’s phone, all of the phones that were logged as having no records were reviewed after the IG contacted the SCO about Page’s phone in late January 2018.

Trump, who has repeatedly denounced the Mueller investigation as a hoax, responded to news of the wiped phones on Twitter.

“It has now been determined that the Mueller Scam should never have been set up in the first place, there were no grounds,” the president wrote. “It was all an illegitimate Witch Hunt, & a big price must be paid. How different my life would have been if this fraud on America was never committed!!!”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote letters to the FBI and DOJ requesting more information on the deleted phones. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked the IG to open a probe into the matter.

Ivan is the national editor of The Epoch Times. He has reported for The Epoch Times on a variety of topics since 2011.
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