Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is reportedly requesting that witnesses in his Russia investigation turn in their phones so they can be inspected for encrypted messaging apps, according to a new report published on Wednesday.
The revelation comes after Mueller accused former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort this week of witness tampering, claiming that Manafort used WhatsApp and Telegram to contact witnesses in his case. CNBC reports:
Since as early as April, Mueller’s team has been asking witnesses in the Russia probe to turn over phones for agents to examine private conversations on WhatsApp, Confide, Signal and Dust, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Witnesses have reportedly complied with Mueller’s request out of fear that they will be subpoenaed if they do not submit to his request.
The encrypted apps in question reportedly allow people to communicate electronically without worrying about being monitored by unauthorized third parties.
It is unclear whether Mueller has uncovered any additional evidence of potential witness tampering or other improper communications with witnesses.
“There’s nothing wrong with asking people to voluntarily provide information to the FBI for whatever investigation,” retired FBI agent Michael German said. “And to the extent that that’s a voluntary action is where the rub is.”