Last week, FBI agents raided the offices of Michael D. Cohen, President Donald Trump’s long-time personal lawyer and self-described “fixer,” a raid the President decried as an attack on attorney-client privilege. Acting under a search warrant obtained following a referral from Robert Mueller, head of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office of Southern District of New York seized everything from business records to computer hard drives. They exited Cohen’s properties, according to the New York Times, with ten boxes of paper documents and dozens of electronic devices, including cellphones and computer hard drives.
Information on those devices could easily add hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of additional documents to the data already gathered as part of the wide-ranging Russia investigation. The Trump campaign has previously supplied Mueller with more than 1.4 million documents, which have in turn been supplemented by disclosures from the White House, subpoenas of the Trump Organization, and documents gained in the investigation into one-time Trump administration officials such as General Michael T. Flynn. That is, in short, quite a mountain of documents to get through.
The biggest political investigation in recent history could also be one of the most significant document review projects ever.
But despite their volume, getting through those documents could be easier than expected. For investigators, technology has made it quite easy to cull down millions of documents, focusing in on the ones that matter.
As Logikcull co-founder and CEO, Andy Wilson, recently explained in an article for Legaltech News, “the vast majority of the data is junk.” Cohen’s files, for example, would include every spam email he saved, every update on his March Madness bracket, every text about lunch plans, or the weather, or traffic. Junk.
“That’s the biggest problem that investigative teams face today,” Wilson told Legaltech News’s Ian Lopez. “The signal isn’t necessarily getting stronger, but the noise for sure is.”
Modern eDiscovery software makes it easier to separate the signal from the noise. Metadata filters can quickly help investigators focus in on communications between key players, during key moments in time. Advanced search technology enables reviewers to build complicated search queries without writing complicated search query syntax. And cloud-based review tools mean that investigators can get their review up and running quickly and conduct it from nearly anywhere.
Similar tools, after all, are likely what helped the FBI get through 650,000 Clinton emails in just eight days during the last election. Manual review would have taken over 2 years or a team of over 100 working around the clock to get the same results. As we explained then:
Mock the government for their inefficiencies all you want. But the government and the FBI aren’t this backwards when taking on the job of sifting through 650,000 emails and attachments. They did not hire 121 people to review 1,000 documents a day for eight days straight. It’s not like the FBI’s a giant law firm from the 1990’s using document search and review software built in the 1980’s with the goal of reviewing every, single, document for relevance not once, but twice.
No, this review was likely done by just a few people. Maybe just one person, at least initially.
The same tools that allowed the FBI to cull through hundreds of thousands of Clinton emails will be essential to the Russia inquiry, and its offshoots, as the investigation moves ahead.
Read the whole article, “Questions Over Collection and Review Pile Up in Mueller Investigation,” featuring insights from Andy Wilson and others, here.