If you’re one of the criminals in the president’s spheres of influence, you can run, but you can’t hide. Despite the president’s best efforts to make him stop his inquiry, Special Counsel for the Russia investigation Robert Mueller is continuing on with his work, and now, CNBC is reporting on a new method that he’s employing.
According to sources speaking to the outlet, his team has been asking witnesses in the investigation to give over their cellphones so that team members can inspect encrypted messaging apps in an effort to discover conversations that may have not previously been known to investigators.
The exact identities of witnesses approached by Mueller’s team with requests to search their conversations on those apps aren’t immediately clear, and neither does it seem quite clear if it’s every witness who has been served with such a request or just some witnesses. Even still, the requests have already yielded at least one possible major revelation in that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was recently accused by prosecutors of witness tampering via conversations held on the apps in question.
Some of the specific messaging apps named by CNBC include WhatsApp, Confide, Signal, and Dust. The revelation of the apparently new investigative method of asking witnesses to voluntarily hand over their phones comes after the Mueller investigation passed its one year anniversary recently, an occasion that provided yet another opportunity for the president and his allies to ramp up their criticisms of the whole operation.
Although the public stance of the Trump administration has been that one of intense criticism, CNBC’s report does note that witnesses called in the course of the Mueller investigation have chosen in some significant number to voluntarily hand over their devices rather than face a subpoena.
Retired FBI agent Michael German commented on the arrangement to CNBC by saying:
‘There’s nothing wrong with asking people to voluntarily provide information to the FBI for whatever investigation. And to the extent that that’s a voluntary action is where the rub is.’
Mueller has certainly overall proven a propensity for pursuing alternative means to obtain information if voluntary methods fail. His team has already been reported to be open to the idea of issuing a subpoena to compel President Trump himself to testify if he refuses to do so on his own.
The possibility of a presidential sitdown with the special counsel’s team is one of the issues that have hung most prominently over the whole investigation recently. The president and his legal team have proven averse to the idea, but it’s not as though that means Mueller is going to say “oh okay alright then I’ll leave you alone.”
Instead, he continues to lead his investigation, picking up new lines of inquiry such as looking into encrypted messaging apps on witnesses’ phones as he goes along. He has been reported throughout recent months to have drawn individuals ranging from longtime Trump friend Tom Barrack to Russian oligarchs like Viktor Vekselberg into the scrutiny of his investigation, with the president tagging along throughout the whole thing and continuing to whine that the investigation should be shut down.
Featured Image via Andrew Harrer/ Bloomberg via Getty Images