On Thursday, Sep. 10, the Justice Department released 87 pages of documents from a Freedom of Information Act request showing that at least 27 iPhones were used by members of the special counsel's office. The government official who reviewed the devices when they were turned in found that data was completely wiped from 22 of the smartphones. At least two phones had their data wiped more than once.
On 11 occasions, employees of the special counsel's office said the data wipes were accidental, and on seven other occasions employees said they inputted the wrong password too many times, causing the phone to wipe itself. (Related: How is this not illegal? Robert Mueller's team wiped nearly 30 cellphones to get rid of any incriminating evidence.)
In a letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Chirstopher Wray, Sen. Grassley wrote:
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 Department of Justice Inspector General began his inquiry into how the Department mishandles [FBI investigation] Crossfire Hurricane.
Grassley is now asking the Justice Department to provide an unredacted version of the documents that were released. Not only that, but he also wants the records from all of the government phones issued to Mueller's staff, as well as any records that may explain why each employee deleted the data from their smartphones. He also wants to know if the FBI or any other agency is investigating the matter, and whether somebody has attempted to recover the lost data.
Grassley isn't alone. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, also sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, to investigate “what, why and how information was wiped, whether any wrongdoing occurred and who these devices belonged to.”
Along with asking Horowitz to open an investigation, Johnson also wants to know whether the Justice Department knew about this issue before it surfaced, and if the Inspector General has the ability to recover any of the lost information from the phones.
Both Johnson and Grassley have a lot of reasons to be concerned regarding the lack of transparency in the special counsel's team, especially since this has happened before.
Back in 2018, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General detailed an extensive effort to recover text messages sent between FBI attorney Lisa Page and the FBI's deputy assistant director Peter Strzok. Before the Inspector General's investigators could get their hands on the pair's smartphones, they had been completely wiped.
Apparently, Strzok and Page texted each other constantly about how much they hated President Donald Trump, about how they wanted to help stop him from winning his reelection bid in 2020 and how they wanted some kind of “insurance policy” if he were to win a second term.
When Horowitz informed Mueller of the text messages, Strzok was immediately removed from the special counsel's team. This is also when almost all of the phones, with the exception of Page's, were wiped.
This raised concerns that the wiped data may contain evidence of criminal conduct on the part of the special counsel or his office. This is part of the reason why Republican senators like Grassley and Johnson are now worried that a lot more evidence of improper or criminal conduct may now be lost in the nearly 30 other empty smartphones.
“Congress and the American people are owed answers regarding Special Counsel Mueller and his team,” wrote Grassley.