Republican lawmakers want to know whether cellphones belonging to people on former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team during the Russia probe were intentionally wiped before they could be reviewed by the Justice Department's inspector general.
Fox News reports that members of the GOP began calling for answers after newly released records from the Justice Department indicated that at least several dozen phones belonging to members of Mueller’s team were wiped of information because of forgotten passcodes, screen damage, loss of the device, intentional deletion, or other reasons.
According to the records, the phones were wiped before the Justice Department inspector general’s office could review them.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray on Friday, asking for information on what actions were taken to recover material deleted from the devices.
“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,” Grassley wrote. “Indeed, many officials apparently deleted the records after the DOJ Inspector General began his inquiry into how the Department mishandled Crossfire Hurricane.”
Grassley added that “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.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told Fox News he was “outraged” by the phone news.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I am aware of the concept of anticipatory obstruction of justice,” Johnson told Fox News in a text message, saying the action of “accidentally wiping a phone because you entered the wrong password too many times” makes him “HIGHLY skeptical,” and a dozen people making “the same mistake is COMPLETELY unbelievable.”
“This needs to be fully investigated,” he said.
He told Fox News he has requested a phone call with Wray.
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes, R-Calif., called all the lost data an “amazing coincidence.”
“It’s an amazing coincidence that all these professional investigators kept accidentally wiping their phones,” Nunes told Fox News. “You’d think these people could come up with a more believable excuse for hiding evidence.”
The new Justice Department records show that Mueller deputy Andrew Weissmann "accidentally wiped" his phone twice after entering the wrong passcode too many times in March 2018. Lawyer James Quarles’ phone “wiped itself” without his intervention, according to the records.
In addition, the records indicate attorney Greg Andres' phone was also wiped due to a forgotten passcode. The documents also say the phones of both Mueller deputy Kyle Freeny and Rush Atkinson were wiped accidentally after they entered the wrong passcode too many times.
A phone belonging to FBI lawyer Lisa Page was restored to factory settings when the inspector general’s office received it, according to the records.
Other officials, whose names were redacted from the report, claim that they unintentionally returned their phone to its factory settings, which deletes all records of communication.
“Phone was in airplane mode, no passcode provided, data unable to be recovered so had to be wiped,” the report states next to the name of one redacted person.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., slammed Mueller's team on Fox News' "Hannity.”
"If you can't manage your own phone, why should we trust you to investigate a crime?" Graham said.
He said U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut John Durham, who is currently investigating the origins of the Russia probe, should look into whether they obstructed justice or intentionally deleted information.
"My job, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is to find out how the Department of Justice and the FBI got Crossfire Hurricane so wrong, why they lied to the FISA court, [and] to make sure it never happens again," Graham said.
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