White House staff last week tried to hide evidence that they have been using a secret messaging app that violates federal record keeping records after the Senate Intelligence Committee requested materials be preserved in relation to a Russia probe, it has emerged.
Several committees as well as the FBI are investigating communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians.
Trump has taken to twitter to blast reports of Russian contacts as fake news. But the hasty decision last week to destroy evidence of an illegal communications system in violation of a Senate request will fuel speculation that he and his associates have something to hide.
Together with the White House Counsel, Press Secretary Sean Spicer called staff in to his office and told them to delete encryption acts like Signal and Confide that leave no paper trail and whose use violates the Presidential records act.
On Wednesday, February 15th, Andrew McCabe, the FBI deputy director went to the White House and had a private conversation with Reince Priebus concerning communications between Trump’s associates and Russia, reports the FT.
It is not yet clear what day exactly last week Spicer instructed staff to hide encryption apps on their devices. But it is likely have been immediately after the visit of McCabe.
A Buzzfeed article posted in the early hours of the morning Friday 17th says that Spicer was willing to show a reporter his text encrypting app.
“In a phone call with BuzzFeed News, Spicer confirmed that he used the app, but said that he had done so only once, when asked to by a reporter “months ago.” He offered to show a BuzzFeed News reporter his phone as proof.”
The use of encrypted communication systems would be of interest to investigators as they would allow Trump associates to contact Russian officials and others off the radar.
It is not clear if the meeting, which was billed as impromptu, was documented. The deletion of an illegal communication system would have to be documented for it to be in compliance with rules.
Spicer was also using the encryption app, and he also deleted it. It is not clear if his use of the app and his deletion of it was documented either to allow investigators to ask him questions on it.
Donald Trump is also reported to be using his personal phone. It is not clear if that also has encryption apps.
At the end of the meeting, Spicer warned the staffers against disclosing any details of the said meeting, which has leaked into the press.
The controlled media are spinning the meeting to suggest that Spicer was warning staffers about leaks.
But the purpose of the meeting may have been to hide the use of a secret messaging app system from the Senate and the FBI as a probe into the contacts of the Trump team with Russians intensifies.
Spicer asked the chairs of the Senate intelligence committee as well as CIA director Mike Pompeio to discredit media reports of Russian contacts, say media.
“Upon entering Spicer’s office for what one person briefed on the gathering described as “an emergency meeting,” staffers were told to dump their phones on a table for a “phone check,” to prove they had nothing to hide.
Spicer, who consulted with White House counsel Don McGahn before calling the meeting, was accompanied by White House lawyers in the room, according to multiple sources.
There, he explicitly warned staffers that using texting apps like Confide — an encrypted and screenshot-protected messaging app that automatically deletes texts after they are sent — and Signal, another encrypted messaging system, was a violation of the Presidential Records Act, according to multiple sources in the room.
Justifying the restrictions, Spicer apparently said that the use of these and similar mobile features will constitute a violation of the Presidential Records Act.
The encryption messaging apps could be being used to run a shadow government.
Given the large amount of financial dealings Donald Trump and the Mercer family appear to have with Russian oligarchs or corrupt officials laundering money, it cannot be ruled out that the apps were being used to communicate with Russians.
Spicer’s emergency meeting to delete the secret communcation apps may have been prompted by the realization that the FBI is intent on investigating reports of contacts between Trump’s team and Russians.
The FBI refused a request by White House chief of staff Reince Priebus last week to deny that there were communications between the Trump team and Russians known to US intelligence.
Priebus has come under fire for attempting to pressure the FBI to deny the existence of communications between Trump and Russians.
The revelation that White House staff are using a secret messaging system recalls the scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct official business.
Clinton destroyed 33,000 emails in an attempt to thwart an FBI investigation.
The fact that off the record systems of communication cannot be used cannot have escaped the Trump team.
One of the main elements of Trump’s campaign was to call for Clinton to be prosecuted for her use of a secret, private email server and her destruction of her emails.
Trump fiercely criticised FBI director James Comey for refusing to prosecute Clinton in spite of the overwhelming evidence that she violated federal laws.
Comey will now be under intense pressure to prosecute Trump for allowing his team to do the same. The presence of the White House Counsel at the meeting to delete apps strongly suggests that Trump gave the greenlight to override rules and destroy evidence of an illegal communications system.
At least one email sent to Hillary’s private server came from Billionaire George Soros. It instructed her how to handle a political crisis in Albania. His instructions were followed.
But barely a month into the administration, it has emerged that the Trump team have set up their own parallel, secret communications system using at least encryption apps, and maybe also private email servers.
It is not clear if special advisers like Jared Kushner or Steve Bannon are using the apps or their private email to conduct government business since their roles are so nebulously defined.
Bannon and Kushner along with Priebus were named as contacts by a Russian TV journalist who interviewed me about biological warfare in Larisa in the summer. Any communications would be without record if Bannon, Kushner and Priebus use encryption apps.
Recognizing the existence of such a system is incriminating, it appears Spicer deleted his own encryption app and ordered other staffers to do the same while trying to hide the actions.
When the information was leaked, Spicer and his team appeared to have tried to spin the actions as directed against leakers.
But it is clear that most leakers cannot be detected by an inspection of their phones. Any leaker in the White House knowing their job is at risk is highly unlikely to ring up the New York Times’s office main line on their office or smartphone and spend ten minutes talking to a journalist on an extension.
Also, any leaker using an encryption app can just upload the app again after Spicer deleted it.
It is not clear with whom the secret apps were used to communicate with, but it is clear that their use violates more laws that Clinton’s email server. She, at least, kept some written record, albeit secretly. The Confide app destroys all written records and messages as soon as it is sent.
But it could be that the secret system was used to run a Clinton style cash for favours scam. Donors or lenders to Trump and Kushner could use the secret system to give him instructions.
Trump could also be open to blackmail given the evidence that his property empire is a front for laundering foreign money, especially Russian money.
George Soros has forgiven Trump a significant loan, which he used to build Trump tower, it has been reported, something which Soros could leverage over Trump.
Deutsche Bank is reported to have examined Trump’s account for links to suspicious Russian guarantees.