How Apple’s iCloud Lead to the Conviction of Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort Credit: Mark Reinstein / Shutterstock
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Paul Manafort — the longtime political operative who, back in 2016, briefly served as the chairman for then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — reached an official plea deal with the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller on Friday, CNN reports.

Manafort, in August, was convicted by a grand jury on eight counts of bank and tax fraud — however he’s since agreed to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” with the ongoing Mueller probe into claims of Russian collusion during the 2016 presidential election, as well as a deal under the terms of which the former political heavyweight will plead guilty to just one count of conspiracy against the U.S. and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The turn of events in this ongoing saga are a story in themselves, but what’s most interesting to us is a report that reveals new details about how Manafort’s misuse of Apple products, as well as “poor operational security” within his business, may have ultimately brought about his downfall.

Multiple Apple Devices 

When federal agents raided his home back in July 2017, they reportedly seized “a large number of electronic devices,” according to a motion filed by Manafort’s attorney’s, which noted that among them were seven iPods, four iPhones, one MacBook Air, one iMac (including one Solid State Drive (SSD) and one Hard Disk Drive (HDD), two iPads and more.

Now, any die-hard Apple fan will assure you there’s nothing wrong with owning multiple devices — in fact that’s sort of the whole point, isn’t it? Unfortunately for Manafort, who used most of these devices to conduct his official business in various capacities, wasn’t using them properly if he intended to fly by under the radar.

What Happened?

We saw this back in June, when Manafort was out of jail on bond awaiting the first of two planned trials. Once again, the operative was nabbed by FBI agents after additional charges of witness tampering were filed against him. Federal prosecutors asserted at the time that Manafort had improperly contacted “two potential witnesses” via WhatsApp — a crucial error in his steps that was ultimately discovered by the bureau by way of a subpoena into his iCloud account. 

As out turns out, from the get-go Manafort had been making the crucial mistake of backing up his encrypted WhatsApp messages between colleagues and confidants to an unencrypted iCloud account, which investigators obtained a court order to view, and, hence, the additional charge of witness tampering which Manafort plead guilty to on Friday.

While it doesn’t happen every day of the week, it’s certainly an unfortunate turn of events when casual missteps lead to crucial or otherwise incriminating errors. And while some might be quick to call-out Apple’s apparent hypocrisy for handing over Manafort’s iCloud credentials to investigators, it’s worth pointing out that Manafort actually did commit a federal crime.

And, as pursuant with Apple’s official iCloud terms of use, when you sign up for an account, “you acknowledge and agree that Apple may, without liability to you, access, use, preserve and/or disclose your Account information and Content to law enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or a third party, as Apple believes is reasonably necessary or appropriate, if legally required to do so or if Apple has a good faith belief that such access, use, disclosure, or preservation is reasonably necessary to: (a) comply with legal process or request.”


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