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GOP Seeks Investigation into Mueller Team Wiping Data From Government Issued Cell Phones

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Friday asked the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate a series of newly released documents appearing to show that several of the prosecutors working under former special counsel Robert Mueller data-wiped their government phones following the Russia probe.

“These reports are troubling and raise concerns about record retention and transparency,” Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, wrote in a letter to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. “Therefore, I respectfully request that your office open an investigation into this matter to determine what, why, and how information was wiped, whether any wrongdoing occurred, and who these devices belonged to.”

According to the documents, which became public following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, as many as 15 phones from members of Mueller’s team were scrubbed of all their data when they were given to the OIG. The reasons provided included from hardware issues, damage, and forgotten passwords (if the incorrect password is typed more than ten times, the phone automatically returns to factory settings).

Johnson also requested follow-up information on the matter from Horowitz’s office, such as when the office was made aware of the phones being scrubbed and whether the data could be retrieved.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, made similar request to Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray in a separate letter sent Friday.

“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. 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.”

Grassley asked that Barr and Wray provide him and his committee with the an unredacted copy of the FOIA response that included the information on the phones, as well as any records from all of the phones used by Mueller’s team, and whether the DOJ has referred the matter to the OIG.

President Donald Trump on Saturday also weighed in on the matter, declaring that the phones being wiped of data was “illegal,” though he cited no law or authority to support his assertion.

Notably, though, the Department of Justice used the Federal Records Act to examine whether “former Secretary of States Clinton and Powell’s use of private email in lieu of an official State Department email system” violated the law.  Even the DOJ’s own documents on the Act state that it “provides no private right of action.”  In other words, individuals cannot sue those who violate the Act by getting rid of documents.

Read Sen. Johnson’s letter below.

Ron Johnson Letter to OIG by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via House Judiciary Committee]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.