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Peter Strzok, Lisa Page iPhones “Scrubbed”? DOJ’s Inspector General Weighs In

December 14, 2018

A report issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) shows serious lapses in the retention of text messages at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), particularly those related to FBI agents Peter Strzok’s and Lisa Page’s Apple iPhones. The two agents, who also were involved romantically, were key players in the Special Counsel Office’s (SCO) investigation into alleged Russian collusion by President Trump and/or his associates and related allegations of “Russian interference” in the United States’ 2016 presidential election (an investigation Strzok authorized). Strzok had also been the lead investigator in an earlier probe into the allegedly illegal handling and storing of classified emails by Hillary Clinton during her term as secretary of state; Clinton had used a private server in some of her work while she was with the State Department.

The OIG report says the investigation into missing texts began when the office learned of a “gap” in the archiving of the texts.
 
The OIG “initiated this investigation upon being notified of a gap in text message data collection during 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,” the report says.
 
While many of the messages not stored in the FBI’s data collection system were eventually retrieved forensically, with nearly 10,000 messages culled from Lisa Page’s Samsung S5 phone issued to her by the FBI that were sent or received during the  data collection “gap,”, two iPhones issued to both Strzok and Page when they joined the SCO’s investigation into Russian collusion claims were wiped clean.
 
The OIG reports the two iPhones, when finally located after some difficulty, had been reset to factory settings, which erased all data. The FBI said the return to factory settings is consistent with policy and is done automatically when phones are returned and subsequently reissued to other agents. 
 
The OIG notes the search for Page’s iPhone was a challenge. The report says she claimed to have left her iPhone on an office bookshelf after she vacated her office July 15, 2017. The iPhone was lost until the Justice Management Division found it more than a year later, in September 2018. It had not been issued to any one else, the report says, and the OIG determined it had been reset to factory settings two weeks after Page claimed to have left it behind. The OIG further notes that the SCO’s Executive Officer responsible for processing Page’s “Exit Clearance Certification” did not receive Page’s iPhone and thus “did not review it for records that would possibly need to be retained prior to the phone having been reset. “
 
Both Strzok and Page joined Robert S. Mueller’s Special Counsel investigative team in May 2017 but were demoted a couple of months later when politically charged texts they sent to each other were made public. Some of those texts appeared to show the pair were deeply hostile toward the idea of a Donald Trump presidency. Claiming their involvement in the investigation tainted the Mueller team’s efforts, critics of the investigation, including Donald Trump, saw the pair demoted to administrative work in the the Justice Department, with Strzok eventually being fired in August 2018 (Page resigned months earlier).
 
The OIG report accepts that there were systemic problems with the collection of data, from software glitches and flaws to hardware breakdowns.
 
“The OIG investigation determined that the FBl’s collection tool was not only failing to collect any data on certain phones during particular periods of time, it also does not appear that it was collecting all text messages even when it was generally functioning to collect text messages,” the report concluded.
 
An FBI response appended to the OIG’s report says the bureau “welcomes” the OIG investigation, adding, “the FBI has been aware of – and acknowledged previously – the fact that although a majority of text messages are captured on its systems, there continue to be challenges in the collection and retention of text messages sent and received on FBI mobile devices. The FBI continues to take steps to mitigate those challenges.”
 
As for the implied legal ramifications of the OIG’s report, the FBI wrote:
 
“Because the FBI was acting in a supporting role to the OIG investigation, and in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, the FBI did not attempt to exploit any of those devices. As noted by the OIG, because of the level of sophistication and access that would be required, it was unlikely that Ms. Page or Mr. Strzok attempted to circumvent the FBl’s text message collection capabilities; and, the OIG found no evidence that they did.”
 
After the OIG report was released, at least one online news outlet, basing its story on that report, claimed in a headline: “Mueller Team Scrubbed Peter Strzok’s Texts Before Giving Phone to Inspector General.”
 
The Post found no conclusion in the OIG’s findings that suggested Mueller, or anyone else in the SCO, intentionally scrubbed data in an effort to conceal or remove evidence.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

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