Documents released last week by the Justice Department about the mishandling of cell phones during the Mueller investigation indicated that a government iPhone issued to former FBI lawyer Lisa Page may not have been lost as the DOJ previously claimed.
The new materials came in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit from conservative accountability watchdog Judicial Watch.
One prominent storyline to emerge was the special counsel’s office’s “accidental” wiping of 22 phones—including some belonging staffers of partisan prosecutor Andrew Weissmann—immediately prior to an investigation by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
But according to the Epoch Times, the materials that the special counsel’s office didn’t lose may be as outrageous as what it did.
Page, the ex-mistress of counterespionage agent Peter Strzok, was booted off the Mueller team after the lovebirds’ anti-Trump texts were publicly revealed in an internal audit of the FBI’s handling of its Crossfire Hurricane operation.
Based on the limited scope of his probe, the inspector general ultimately concluded that, despite the damning texts, the FBI investigators’ political views did not interfere with their work.
Horowitz also noted, however, in a December 2018 report, that some of the materials—including Page’s iPhone—had been lost along the way.
Documents indicated that Page turned the phone in on July 14, 2017, along with all her other government-issued devices. Roughly two weeks later, on July 31, it was restored to factory settings, said the OIG report.
“The SCO [special counsel’s office] was unable to locate the iPhone previously assigned to Page, which had been returned to DOJ’s Justice Management Division (JMD),” it said.
“Subsequently, in early September 2018, JMD informed the OIG [inspector general’s office] that it had located the iPhone that had been assigned to Page,” it continued.
After the OIG took custody, it remitted it back to the special counsel’s office, which confirmed that it had been thoroughly wiped.
A “forensic review of the phone determined that it did not contain any data related to Page’s use of the device,” said the report, which noted parenthetically that the DOJ “routinely resets mobile devices to factory settings when the device is returned from a user to enable that device to be issued to another user in the future.”
Neither the special counsel’s office nor the DOJ claimed to have records of who received or handled the phone in that interim period, when policy dictated it should have been checked for records.
But the new batch of declassified emails reveals that a member of Mueller’s staff with the initials LFW acknowledged having possession of it on July 17, three days after Page was said to have returned it.
After Chris Greer, a member of the DOJ’s information office, asked whether a “delete request” should be submitted, the person responded, “I think we want to hold for just a bit to make sure she isn’t coming back.”
The message also indicated that a procedure was needed for getting documents off Page’s h: drive, revealing that her devices were not likely to have been accidentally mishandled.
“These irregularities with the phones of Mueller investigators are either sloppiness or the
deliberate destruction of evidence—and it’s probably not sloppiness,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee who led the congressional inquiry, told the Epoch Times.
The conservative media outlet also interviewed key players—including “LFW” (whose name is redacted in the DOJ emails) and Page—but all of those involved said that the new revelation was consistent with previous accounts.
“Page’s phone notably never made it into the hands of the special counsel’s records officer,
who told the OIG that she never received the phone to examine it for any government
records that would need to be retained,” the Epoch Times surmised in its investigation.
Chris Farrell, director of investigations and research for Judicial Watch, speculated in an op-ed for the Daily Caller that any intentional phone-wiping could lead to criminal obstruction charges, perhaps as part of the DOJ’s ongoing investigation being led by US Attorney John Durham.
At the very least, Farrell said Durham’s official report must shed further light on the “sketchy practices” that Judicial Watch has uncovered through its independent efforts.
“It is beyond suspicious that all these phones and the evidence they held were accidentally disabled en masse just as the OIG was closing in,” he wrote.
“The story is too incredible, and the magnitude of the destruction is prima facie evidence of a coverup,” he continued. “This raises the more interesting question; what do these people have to hide?”