WASHINGTON, DC — Judicial Watch announced today it received 87 pages of records from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that show senior members of Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) repeatedly and “accidentally” wiped phones assigned to them.
The records were produced in response to Judicial Watch’s September 2019 Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the Justice Department and FBI over December 17, 2018, FOIA requests (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:19-cv-02693)) for:
- All records related to the hardware, software and contents of mobile phones issued to FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page for their use while they served on the investigative team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
- All records of communication (whether on government or non-.gov email accounts and whether using real names or aliases), with FBI officials relating to the hardware, software and contents of mobile phones issued to FBI officials Strzok and Page for their use while they served on the investigative team of Special Counsel Mueller.
In a table that appears to be a tabulation of Special Counsel’s Office reviews of phones used by Mueller’s team for records-preservation purposes, 27 phones were reported wiped clean of all data prior to the review having taken place:
- 20 phones were reported wiped of data due to “accidental wipe” (usually from entering the password too many times);
- 2 phones were reported wiped after placed in airplane mode from which they could not be unlocked because password was forgotten, including the phones of Andrew Weissmann (2 phones) and two deputies of Mueller, Kyle Freeny and Rush Atkinson.
- 1 phone was wiped clean without explanation.
- There are no records of Mueller’s phone’s ever being reviewed.
The review of Page’s phone reads as follows: “Phone not found, phone found and with DOJ OIG, but according to AMZ on 9/19/18 conversation, the phone was restored to factory settings. Per email from DOJ OIG contact [redacted] on 10/17/18, the phone was restored to factory settings when they received it.”
The review of Strzok’s phone reads as follows: “No substantive texts, notes or reminders.”
In December 2018, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General issued a report regarding the recovery of “thousands of text messages.” The IG “initiated this investigation upon being notified of a gap in text message data collection for the period December 15, 2016, through May 17, 2017, from Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) mobile devices assigned to FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.”
Because of the content of many of the text messages between Strzok and Page, the IG also asked Mueller’s office for the DOJ-issued iPhones that had been assigned to Strzok and Page. The phone assigned to Strzok had been “reset to factory settings” and “reconfigured for the new user to whom the device was issued.”
Page’s iPhone had been reset but had not been reassigned. The IG also said that as the date of its report, the FBI wasn’t reliably collecting text messages of all its employees.
“The pandemic of ‘wiped’ phones among the Mueller team requires a criminal investigation of this destruction of evidence and potential obstruction of justice and other crimes,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The DOJ and FBI hid these records for nearly two years – which only adds to appearance of a cover-up.”
The newly released records include a log of all mobile phones issued to the Mueller team that reveals a total of 25 names, including Mueller himself, along with Strzok, Page and Weissmann. Eight of the 25 names are redacted under FOIA’s “personal privacy” exemptions.
Forms and emails at the time Page was leaving the Special Counsel’s Office reveal all she had to do was fill out the government forms and return all equipment issued to her but did not need to go through security and ethics debriefs. In an email from Special Counsel administrative official “LFW” to colleague “SLL,” with subject line, “Employee Exit Form and Certification Checklist,” LFW says: “She has a laptop (which may already be in [redacted] area), a DOJ cell phone & charger, and, perhaps a PIV badge. Since she is not actually leaving employment, the security and ethics debriefs will not have to happen.”
A redacted person in the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) identified as “PPS1” emails Strzok separation forms on August 9, 2018, with subject line, “SCO Exit Certification Checklist.pdf; ATT00001.htm” for him to fill out before he left the Special Counsel team. A record of the completed forms dated August 11 reveals Strzok had not returned “All non-record material removed from electronic and paper files; location of official paper and electronic records identified; and reference material.
On September 13, 2018, there begins a series of emails running through December 27 seeking to find and review Lisa Page’s mobile phone. On October 17, 2018, at 7:44 am, a redacted records officer in the Special Counsel’s office emails someone named Alicia: “Hope you’re well. I was hoping you could confirm for me that when you all received Lisa Page’s phone that it had been restored to the factory settings and therefore all data was wiped from the device.” A redacted sender responds: “Yes that’s correct, the device had been reset to factory settings.”
On October 22, 2018, at 12:33 pm, a redacted Senior special agent in the Justice Department Cyber Investigations Office emails a redacted recipient after learning Page’s phone had been wiped of all content: “I need to give you a call for a few follow up questions regarding the Strzok/Page phone matter. I have included a snapshot of the narrative included in our memorandum of our meeting on January 26, 2018.”
The following report was attached to the email:
[Redacted] provided the following information regarding this matter. On September 6, 2017, she reviewed Strzok’s phone before turning it over to IT staff for it to be wiped and reissued. She did not find substantive texts, notes, or reminders. She cannot remember if there were no texts on the device or if they were innocuous, but thinks there were none. She explained that if there is such content on the device, she would take screen shots and email them to herself for review and preservation. [Redacted] provided a copy of the spreadsheet she keeps reflecting out-processing iPhone data review. This spreadsheet has been included as Attachment 2. Strzok out-processed on August 10, 2017.
After reviewing Strzok’s phone, she turned it in to either [Redacted] or [Redacted] to wipe and repurpose the phone.
[Redacted] said that she did not receive Page’s phone for review.
On September 20, 2018, Aaron Zebley asks Beth McGarry, “If possible, can I get the dates on which cell phones were assigned to Pete Strzok and Lisa Page? I think the latter is May 28. Thanks.” McGarry forwards the request to Chris Greer asking, “Can you pull this info?” Greer replies, “I am working on it. I asked the team to contact Verizon to see if they can tell us when the phones were provisioned. I verified they both logged into their laptops on May 31, 2017 and I assume the phones were the same day, but am trying to verify.” Further on, Greer adds, “Our airwatch logs may only go back 1 year, so if true, they won’t help. Still waiting to hear if Verizon can help.”
On December 27, 2018, there begins a series of emails discussing Rudy Giuliani’s remarks to reporters that the Special Counsel’s Office should be investigated for “destruction of evidence,” in which Zebley writes:
FYI: The determination that Pete Strzok’s phone had no SCO-era text messages was made by the IG in the course of its investigation of text messages. Also, the IG report notes on pp 1-21 that the OIG asked us for Pete’s phone six months after his assignments had ended and, on the bottom of page 10, the report reads:
Upon review of a draft of this report, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General told the OIG that the Department 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.
On September 21, 2018, at 11:48 am, Zebley (AMZ) in the Special Counsel’s Office sends information for a draft report to redacted recipient who confirms it as accurate:
As part of an office records retention procedure, an SCO Records Officer reviewed text message on Strzok’s DOJ issued iPhone after he returned it to the SCO and determined it contained no substantive text messages.
Strozk completed his Exit Clearance Certification and returned his DOJ issued iPhone in early August 2017.
As part of an office records retention procedure, an SCO Records Officer reviewed text message on Strzok’s DOJ issued iPhone after it was returned. [fn] The SCO Records Officer noted in her records log about Strzok’s phone: “No substantive texts, notes or reminders.” [Redacted]
Zebley adds a “new sentence” which is also affirmed: “The SCO Records Officer does not recall there being any texts on Strzok’s phone, and she made an identical log entry for another phone reviewed on the same day that she specifically recalls having no text messages.”
On January 26, 2018, at 5:39 pm, JMD’s Christopher Greer emails a redacted person in the Special Counsel Administrative Office, asking: “Do you know where Lisa Page’s iPhone is? I know the SCO policy was to reuse them and not hold, but wanted to check with you first. The asset tag is T66438.” The administrator replies: “Yes, I know it is missing. We discovered that first. It is not in UAPM [Unified Asset & Property Management] and doesn’t appear to be anywhere at PP1.
At 7:06 pm, Greer responds: “OIG wants to speak with me about it Monday. Beth [McGarry, executive officer of Mueller’s special counsel team] sent them my way. Should I redirect to you or move forward with speaking with them?” The SOC administrator replies: “Move forward with them. I was going to reach out to you about searching RFK [Main Justice], but Beth asked me to hold off.”
On January 31, 2019, LFW sends an email to SLL with subject line “Cell Phone Numbers,” writing: “One last number that will need to be canceled, but not until after we consult with OIG. Pete Strzok [redacted] number was never canceled [redacted]. We have not yet received the phone back, either.”