BipHoo Company / Flickr Mueller raised possibility of presidential subpoena...
BipHoo Company / Flickr

When FBI agents from the southern district of New York paid a visit on Michael Cohen, they found a drawer containing more than a dozen cell phones. When the FBI visited Paul Manafort, they found that he had even more phones than passports (and he had at least three of those). It’s clear that, in these digital days, a lot of transactions aren’t going to be recorded on paper and filed neatly under bribery, shakedowns, and general corruption. Which is why special counsel Robert Mueller has developed an interest in checking a few more phones.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is requesting that witnesses turn in their personal phones to inspect their encrypted messaging programs and potentially view conversations between associates linked to President Donald Trump, sources told CNBC.

Encrypted messaging apps have become the go-to means of information exchange for crooked politicians at all levels. Recently resigned Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens had supplied his entire staff with an app called “Confide” which encrypts message traffic and deletes it without a trace. It’s just the kind of thing for someone with … Greitens’ interests.

Because the app is designed to eliminate a paper trail, it is impossible to determine whether the governor and his staff are using it to conduct state business out of view of the public, or whether they’re using it for personal and campaign purposes.

Confide is just one in a series of similar apps. In addition, there are now dozens, if not hundreds, of web sites offering the service of sending messages that can be viewed by the recipient, but which make it difficult to preserve or re-transmit the message. While the Trump-Russia investigation has turned up some remarkable documents sent en clear—from the email messages informing Donald Trump Jr. of Russia’s willingness to hand over documents to help his father to … Donald Trump Jr. again, communicating with Wikileaks through Twitter direct messaging—the existence of encrypted apps and email tools means that any amount of traffic could have been sent by other means, and it could be extremely difficult to recover.

Mueller’s team has been looking into a set of apps, including “WhatsApp, Confide, Signal and Dust” all of which offer similar functionality. It’s not clear which, if any, witnesses or suspects have been willing to turn over the keys to retrieving their encrypted messages, or if Mueller has had anyone participating in these secret lanes of message exchange.

In Missouri, at least 20 people associated with Greitens were engaged in secret communications using Confide. And even though most of those involved were state employees, Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley helpfully ruled that ‘no evidence of wrongdoing existed’ and that the use of such programs didn’t violate state rules for transparency or record retention.

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