Tech pro tip to Paul Manafort: Encrypting messages doesn’t mean much if your iCloud is backing them up.
President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager may now be going to jail for witness tampering, after Robert Mueller’s team accessed his iCloud account and found evidence he was trying to shape the testimony of two witnesses in his bank fraud and money laundering case. Manafort, one of the key figures in Mueller’s investigation, may have thought he was being pretty sneaky when he allegedly used encrypted messaging services to coordinate the testimony with witnesses, but he let his phone send his data to the cloud, and prosecutors snuck in and got his WhatsApp and Telegram messages.
Based on the filing from Team Mueller, it’s clear that some of the witnesses willingly spoke to prosecutors and turned over some of their communications with Manafort. But other messages were obtained not through the witnesses but through Manafort’s iCloud account, which prosecutors got a court order to access.
Manafort’s been indicted on several charges of money laundering, tax evasion and violating lobbying laws, but was released on a $10 million bail and required to wear an ankle monitor. He’s now accused of violating the terms of his release by coordinating with witnesses, unnamed in the court filing made public on Monday. Mueller’s team has asked a judge to send him to jail to ensure he doesn’t try to tamper further with their case. His trial is set to start in Virginia on July 24.
Mueller’s team thinks Manafort secretly retained a group of former European officials to act as lobbyists on issues related to Ukraine, paying them 2 million euros in 2012 and 2013, according to court documents. Manafort allegedly failed to disclose who his lobbying clients were — a key point in his defense is that these lobbyists only worked in the European Union. And, through encrypted messaging services and an intermediary, he tried to ensure that that’s what they would tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
“They should say their lobbying and public relations work was exclusively in Europe,” one of the messages Manafort sent reads, according to the filing.
“Media and messages you back up aren't protected by WhatsApp end-to-end encryption while in iCloud,” WhatsApp says on its publicly posted frequently asked questions page on its website.
Manafort might have saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d read that.