Congress left with more questions than answers on missing Jan. 6 texts

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials received a barrage of letters from lawmakers Wednesday, with leaders of the Secret Service, the department, and even its watchdog asked to supply reams of documents about missing text messages for Jan. 6.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate asked DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secret Service Director James Murray to answer a suite of questions about the agency’s decision to undergo a software migration in the days following Jan. 6 that leaders say resulted in the lost messages.

Collectively, the letters indicate the legislative branch has no plans to slow its oversight surrounding the missing texts as lawmakers largely head out for the summer.

It also shows lawmakers remain baffled by the chain of events that led to the missing messages nearly a month after their deletion was first disclosed, including Secret Service’s policy surrounding texting, and whether the department has made any effort to recover the messages.

“Although DHS and the USSS may not have maliciously deleted text messages, we are deeply concerned about the implementation of the data migration, including the decision to continue with the migration after multiple entities requested the preservation of communications on or around January 6, 2021,” the House Committee on Homeland Security wrote in a letter to both men that included 20 follow-up questions.

“Given these document requests, DHS senior officials and the USSS should have paused the migration to preserve communications and comply with the investigations.”

And in the Senate, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Gary Peters (D-Mich.) is also asking DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to explain his own actions in waiting months to alert lawmakers of the issue, only for it to surface that his own deputy at one point told the Secret Service they would no longer need to provide the messages.

“I appreciate that you have an ongoing investigation into these matters. Nevertheless, it is essential that I have full confidence and faith in your work,” Peters wrote, adding the request came “in light of the divergence between the information you have provided me and information that has otherwise come to light.”

Peters also sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asking about the wiping of phones of former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller and former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy following the transition.

Neither DHS nor Cuffari’s office immediately responded to request for comment.

Lawmakers have been fuming since being alerted last month that Secret Service messages were “erased” shortly after being requested, while the messages of then-DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli on Jan. 6 were also lost when their phones were wiped during the transition.

The letters ask numerous questions about possible recovery methods that might be used to retrieve the texts, with the Senate correspondence even specifying whether the data could be retained by Apple or through Verizon.

The letters also ask for more specifics on the exact period of time that Wolf and Cuccinelli’s messages cannot be accounted for.

The House has requested all documents and communication with DHS and Secret Service staff about the need to preserve records during the migration to a new mobile management software, including an 11-day period encompassing the inauguration.

Secret Service has said it’s not clear that text messages are missing, given that agents are advised against communicating via phone texts for security purposes.

The letter from House lawmakers seems to question that claim as well.

“If USSS policy is that no official business be conducted by text message, why are USSS mobile devices text capable?” they ask.

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