New details leaked this week regarding the scope of Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
According to sources cited by CNBC, Mueller’s team has requested in recent weeks that witnesses in the case provide their cellphones to federal agents for examination.
The requests began in early April, according to the anonymous sources, and will reportedly allow investigators to review the contents of encrypted messaging apps.
Specifically, Mueller is believed to be interested in potentially deleted messages sent or received through WhatsApp, Confide, Signal and Dust.
Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman indicted as part of Mueller’s probe, was recently accused of using similar encryption services to engage in witness tampering.
According to a court filing that could land him in jail for violating the terms of his bond, Manafort allegedly contacted two individuals through such apps “in an effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence.”
Investigators requested access to phones to determine whether other witnesses took part in any relevant digital communications that they did not reveal, sources say. Available reports did not indicate what evidence might have precipitated the request or whether investigators have learned anything new from the review.
A Mueller spokesman did not respond to media requests for comment.
Sources indicated that the witnesses contacted by Mueller’s team have complied with the request rather than wait for a possible subpoena seeking the same evidence.
Despite their apparent acquiescence, some of President Donald Trump’s fiercest defenders in the media have pushed back.
Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity took the opportunity to mock former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who controversially deleted thousands of emails ahead of an FBI probe into allegations that she improperly used a private server for State Department business.
On separate occasions, he encouraged witnesses to follow Clinton’s “lead” by destroying their own devices before submitting them to Mueller’s team.
“If I advised them to follow Hillary Clinton’s lead, delete all your emails and then acid-wash your emails and hard drives on the phones, then take your phones and bash them with a hammer to little itsy bitsy pieces, use BleachBit, remove the SIM cards and then take the pieces and hand them over to Robert Mueller, and say, Hillary Rodham Clinton, this is equal justice under the law,” Hannity said.
Another reference during the same broadcast included a passing mention that he did not intend his advice to be taken literally.
“Mueller wants everyone’s cellphones,” Hannity said. “My advice to them, not really, kidding, bad advice, would be, follow Hillary’s lead. Delete them, acid wash them, bust them up, take out the SIM cards and say here Mr. Mueller, here, I’m following Hillary’s lead.”
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