EXCLUSIVE: Republican Rep. Doug Collins demanded Apple CEO Tim Cook provide information on the iPhone’s feature that wipes phone data after a certain number of failed passcode attempts, following newly released Justice Department records which showed more than a dozen phones belonging to members of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigatory team were “wiped” during the Russia probe.
In a letter exclusively obtained by FOX Business Tuesday, Collins, R-Ga., wrote t=o Cook that he believed the “information will be helpful to many Members of Congress and the American public” who are concerned that members of Mueller’s team “may have intentionally wiped their government-issued iPhones, illegally destroying government records in the process.”
Collins’ letter comes just days after records from the Justice Department surfaced showing that at least several dozen phones belonging to members of Mueller’s team were wiped of information because of forgotten passcodes, irreparable screen damage, loss of the device, intentional deletion or other reasons — all before the Justice Department inspector general’s office could review the devices.
“From the events described in the DOJ-released documents, it seems to be no coincidence that so many of Mueller’s staff members’ iPhones were wiped due to a forgotten passcode right before turning them in,” Collins wrote. “If my instinct is correct—that these individuals intentionally subverted potential efforts to investigate their actions during the Mueller investigation—it leads inquiring minds to wonder: what evidence was so damning that they felt the need to destroy it?”
Collins noted that members of Mueller’s team whose phones were wiped prior to their return “blamed the data destruction on iPhone feature that automatically wipes a phone’s data after the wrong passcode is entered consecutively a certain number of times.”
“It is my hope that your company can shed light on this mechanism and how it may have played a role in this case,” Collins wrote.
Collins, like other congressional Republicans in recent days, have cast doubt on whether the deletion of data on the phones was truly an accident.
"It would be truly shocking if the attorneys chosen to investigate the President of the United States—arguably the Democrats' 'best and brightest' lawyers—could manage to inadvertently wipe their government-issued iPhones because they spent hours entering an incorrect passcode to a phone they had used for over a year," Collins wrote.
Collins said he was under the impression that the security feature on the iPhones was “intended to prevent unauthorized access via passcode guesses in the event that an iPhone is lost or stolen and includes features that prevent accidental destruction of the data by the user.”
“In fact, widely available information indicates that it would take a minimum of 10 successive incorrect passcodes entered over the course of at least three hours for this security feature to be triggered,” he wrote.
Collins requested Apple provide further information on the security feature, including the minimum number of successive passcode attempts that would trigger the destruction of data on iPhone 6 and iPhone 7 models; whether the data could be recovered via the iPhone itself or the iCloud; whether Apple keeps statistics on security features; and whether it was the company’s goal to “minimize the likelihood that a user would accidentally trigger the destruction of data” that the feature ultimately leads to.
The new Justice Department records were released after a lawsuit from conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.
The documents show that Mueller deputy Andrew Weissmann "accidentally wiped" his phone twice after entering the wrong passcode too many times in March 2018. Lawyer James Quarles’ phone “wiped itself” without his intervention, the records say.
The records indicate attorney Greg Andres' phone was also wiped due to a forgotten passcode. And they say the phones of both Mueller deputy Kyle Freeny and Rush Atkinson were wiped accidentally after they entered the wrong passcode too many times.
The records say that a phone belonging to FBI lawyer Lisa Page – whose anti-Trump texts with Strzok were of interest to investigators – was restored to factory settings when the inspector general’s office received it.
Other officials, whose names are redacted, claim to have unintentionally restored their phone to its factory settings, deleting all records of communication.
Next to the name of one redacted person, the record says: “Phone was in airplane mode, no passcode provided, data unable to be recovered so had to be wiped.”
Fox News reached out to Weissmann and Mueller's former spokesman, but has not received a response.
Mueller’s investigation yielded no evidence of criminal conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the election, although it did find that the Russian government "interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systemic fashion." The question of whether Trump obstructed justice was not answered, but it did state that the final report "does not exonerate [Trump]" on this matter.
The inspector general’s office (OIG) opened an investigation into possible bias in the origins of the Russia investigation, but determined that the FBI complied with policies in launching the politically explosive probe. Still, the OIG flagged "significant concerns with how certain aspects of the investigation were conducted and supervised.”
The report concluded that investigators found no intentional misconduct or political bias surrounding the probe's launch and efforts to seek a controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in the early months of the investigation. But the same report faulted the FBI over numerous errors in the application process.
The IG probe identified at least 17 "significant inaccuracies and omissions" in the Page applications and said they would launch a new audit into the FISA process. IG Michael Horowitz and his investigators were at times sharply critical of the bureau's handling of the case, including for failing to share information that would have undercut claims in those documents.