MANHATTAN (CN) – Prosecutors reconstructed more than a dozen pages of shredded documents and obtained hundreds of encrypted messages from President Donald Trump’s embattled personal attorney Michael Cohen, they told a federal judge Friday.
The revelation fell hours after CNN reported that Cohen told his family that he is willing to cooperate with the federal government, a claim attributed to a source familiar with the matter.
“As also previously noted, the contents of a shredding machine were seized on April 9, 2018,” prosecutors wrote this afternoon in a letter to U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood. “The reconstructed documents were produced today, and are approximately 16 pages long.”
The 2-page letter goes on to announce that the FBI has recovered 731 pages of communications from Cohen’s encrypted messaging applications, including WhatsApp and Signal. Call logs are included in these pages.
Today marked the deadline for Cohen’s attorneys to complete their review of files that the FBI seized pursuant to a search warrant from their client’s office, apartment and hotel room in April.
With a criminal fraud investigation ongoing, prosecutors agreed to give Cohen another 10 days to review the latest tranche of files by June 25.
The batch will also include the contents of two BlackBerrys among about a dozen phones seized from the raid. Prosecutors say they have turned over the contents of one BlackBerry to Cohen already, and the FBI is still attempting to extract data from the second.
This is the second time this month that federal prosecutors revealed that they can obtain encrypted messages from Signal, a messaging platform relied upon by reporters, human rights activists and others handling sensitive information around the world.
Signal messages appeared in an indictment against former Senate Intelligence Committee aide James Wolfe, who used the platform to chat with New York Times reporter Ali Watkins.
Like the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Signal is an end-to-end encrypted platform, meaning that only the senders and recipients have unencrypted access to the messages.
Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic fellow Mason Kortz noted that strong encryption protects these messages from third parties in transit, but they can still can be read on the end-user devices.
“If you’re able to obtain someone’s phone and are able to unlock it, you’re going to be able to see it regardless of whether they’re encrypted,” Kortz noted.
Prosecutors say that the FBI previously had trouble obtaining the messages.
“The government was advised that the FBI’s original electronic extraction of data from telephones did not capture content related to encrypted messaging applications, such as WhatsApp and Signal,” the letter states. “The FBI has now obtained this material.”
For Kortz, this passage suggests the FBI vaulted a technological hurdle.
“It sounds to me more like they were technically able to get messages that they were unable to before,” he said.
Cohen has faced a series of federal court setbacks as the screws tighten on him and other targets of special counsel Robert Mueller, whom the Justice Department tapped to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Mueller had punted the Cohen probe to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, but his prosecutorial team in Washington has made swift work with other Trump allies. Five of the president’s allies copped guilty pleas, and 17 Russian individuals and companies have been indicted.
Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort lost his bail hearing today, with a federal judge sending the 69-year-old to jail pending trial.
According to CNN, Cohen has been feeling pressure and fears that Trump and his allies are turning on him. The Associated Press reported that he is considering hiring new defense attorneys to replace his current counsel at the New York and Washington-based firm McDermott, Will & Emery LLP.
In another blow earlier this month, the court-appointed special master overseeing Cohen’s privilege dispute overruled three privilege assertions by Trump’s legal team.
Trump’s attorneys originally intended to dispute these rulings, but special master Barbara Jones revealed Friday that they “withdrew certain privilege designations” following a ruling that they would need to defend their objections on the public record.
Only 168 of the 292,409 items seized from Cohen reviewed so far qualify as privileged or highly personal. The rest have been turned over to the government.
Judge Wood gave Cohen, Trump and the Trump Organization until Monday to lodge their next round of objections.
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