Mueller Team's Wiped Phones -- Grassley Demands Explanation from DOJ

Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks in Washington, D.C., September 4, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Senator Chuck Grassley on Friday demanded more details from the Justice Department on the cell phones used by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team that were wiped before the DOJ inspector general could review them for records.

“It appears that Special Counsel Mueller’s team may have deleted federal records that could be key to better understanding their decision-making process as they pursued their investigation and wrote their report. Indeed, many officials apparently deleted the records after the DOJ Inspector General began his inquiry into how the Department mishandled Crossfire Hurricane,” Grassley wrote in a letter dated Friday to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“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 Iowa Republican wrote.

At least 27 cell phones belonging to members of Mueller’s team were wiped clean of data before the DOJ inspector general could comb them for records, the DOJ said in records released Thursday. Including mobile phones that were “reassigned,” members of the Special Counsel’s office wiped a total of 31 phones.

Several of the phones were wiped “accidentally,” some after the wrong password was entered too many times. Andrew Weismann, a top prosecutor on Mueller’s team, “accidentally wiped” his mobile phone more than once, causing the data to be lost, the DOJ said. A phone belong to assistant special counsel James Quarles “wiped itself without intervention from him,” the DOJ’s records state.

The cell phone of FBI lawyer Lisa Page was misplaced by the special counsel’s office. While it was eventually obtained by the DOJ inspector general, by that point the phone had been restored to its factory settings, wiping it of all data. The phone of FBI agent Peter Strzok was also obtained by the inspector general’s office, which found “no substantive texts, notes or reminders” on it.

Phones issued to at least three other Mueller prosecutors, Kyle Freeny, Rush Atkinson, and senior prosecutor Greg Andres were also wiped of data.

Grassley, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, demanded that the DOJ provide the committee with records relating to the cell phones, including any recovered text messages and the explanations that members of Mueller’s team gave for why their phone data was deleted. Grassley also asked whether the DOJ is investigating potential violations of federal record keeping laws by members of the Special Counsel’s Office as well as whether the department attempted to forensically recover any deleted records.

Mueller submitted his final report to Attorney General William Barr on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in March of last year. The report concluded that the Trump campaign did not conspire with Russians to influence the election, but said investigators could not reach a conclusion on whether President Trump committed obstruction of justice.

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