The FBI just got its hands on a whole lot of Michael Cohen’s encrypted communications. In a letter submitted Friday, the United States Attorney’s Office revealed that it obtained a treasure trove of messages and call logs from a BlackBerry that belonged to President Donald Trump’s personal attorney.
According to the letter, the FBI was able to recover 731 pages worth of conversations from encrypted messaging services WhatsApp and Signal which it submitted to be reviewed as evidence. The agency was also able to reconstruct 16 pages of documents that were discovered in a shredding machine when it executed a search warrant back in April.
The Bureau is still attempting to extract information from a second BlackBerry taken during the sweep of Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room. The US Attorney’s office didn’t provide an estimate as to how much more information may be coming from that device but did note in the letter to Judge Kimba Wood that it recovered approximately 315MB of data from one BlackBerry.
“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 stated. “The FBI has now obtained this material.”
How exactly the FBI suddenly got its hands on this information that was previously inaccessible is of interest. The government and law enforcement has been in an ongoing battle against encryption, especially when it comes to communications—a fight that has manifested most notably in the FBI’s battle with Apple—and has regularly pursued methods to crack encryption in order to access protected information.
In this case, it seems unlikely that the government would have to use any of its encryption-cracking technology (or third-party contractors who do the dirty work for a steep fee). Instead, as Ars Technica pointed out, it’s more likely that the FBI dumped the messages from the phone onto a PC and used existing tools to access the database of communications. WhatsApp did not respond to request for comment regarding the case. We will update this story if we hear back.
The information recovered from the BlackBerry was handed over to Cohen and his team of attorneys Friday. He’ll be given until June 25 to review the materials and claim protected status on any of the messages. Those claims will be reviewed by the Special Master assigned to the case.
The FBI’s latest recovery adds to the already massive pile of data collected from Cohen’s devices, including two phones and an iPad. A total of 291,770 items were collected from those devices, with 148 ruled to be “Privileged” or “Partially Privileged” and seven considered “Highly Personal.” With another BlackBerry still out there, and Cohen reportedly expecting to be arrested any day now, things aren’t looking great for Trump’s personal fixer who hasn’t really fixed much.