Secret Service agents deleted text messages sent and received around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol even after an inspector general requested them as part of an investigation into the insurrection, the government watchdog has found.
The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG), in a letter obtained by The Associated Press, said the messages between Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021, were erased “as part of a device-replacement program.” The erasure came after the watchdog office requested records of electronic communications between the agents as part of its probe into events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack, the letter said.
Additionally, Homeland Security personnel were told they couldn’t provide records to the inspector general and any such records would first have to be reviewed by DHS lawyers.
“This review led to weeks-long delays in OIG obtaining records and created confusion over whether all records had been produced,” states the letter, which was dated Wednesday and sent to leaders of the House and Senate homeland security committees.
The erasure of the messages is sure to raise questions for the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack, which has taken a renewed interest in the Secret Service following the dramatic testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson late last month about former president Donald Trump’s actions the day of the insurrection.
Hutchinson recalled being told about a confrontation between Trump and his Secret Service detail as he angrily demanded to be driven to the Capitol, where his supporters would later breach the building. She also recalled overhearing Trump telling security officials to remove magnetometers for his rally on the Ellipse, a park directly south of the White House, even though some of his supporters were armed.
Secret Service objects to characterization
Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi objected to the letter Thursday night, saying: “The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false. In fact, the Secret Service has been fully co-operating with the OIG in every respect — whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts.”
He said the Secret Service had started to reset its mobile devices to factory settings in January 2021 “as part of a pre-planned, three-month system migration.” In that process, some data was lost.
It was not clear why a data migration would take place just as one presidential administration was giving way to a new one, or if that was standard practice in the past.
The inspector general has first requested the electronic communications on Feb. 26, “after the migration was well under way,” Guglielmi said.
“The Secret Service notified DHS OIG of the loss of certain phones’ data, but confirmed to OIG that none of the texts it was seeking had been lost in the migration,” he said.
The allegation that officials at the inspector general’s office were not given timely access to the material because of a review by Homeland Security lawyers had been raised by the inspector general before and is also not true, he said.
“DHS has repeatedly and publicly debunked this allegation, including in response to OIG’s last two semi-annual reports to Congress,” Guglielmi added.
Reaction from Democratic congressman from Tennessee:
This is wrong wrong wrong behavior. Trumps making a Secret Service agent his deputy chief of staff was wrong also. We need to get the Secret Service to follow the law and be civil service as well as Secret Service <a href=”https://t.co/P86qGZBh9Y”>https://t.co/P86qGZBh9Y</a>
The agency said it provided a substantial number of emails and chat messages that included conversations and details related to Jan. 6 to the inspector general and said text messages from the Capitol Police requesting assistance on Jan. 6 were preserved and provided to the inspector general’s office.
The erasure of the text messages was first reported by The Intercept.