Secret Service deleted text messages ahead of Jan. 6 riot, says IG

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The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified lawmakers that the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) had deleted text messages from Jan. 5, 2021, and on the day of the Capitol riot itself after they had been formally requested by investigators.

DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari wrote in a letter addressed to House and Senate Homeland Security committees, which was given to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol rioting, that text messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021, had been “erased as part of a device-replacement program,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill and first reported by The Intercept.

“The USSS erased those text messages after OIG requested records of electronic communications from the USSS, as part of our evaluation of events at the Capitol on January 6,” Cuffari continued.

The letter said DHS officials had told the Office of the Inspector General that they could not provide records directly to the inspector general until they were reviewed by lawyers.

“Second, DHS personnel have repeatedly told OIG inspectors that they were not permitted to provide records directly to OIG and that such records had to first undergo review by DHS attorneys. This review led to weeks-long delays in OIG obtaining records and created confusion over whether all records had been produced,” he added.

DHS did not respond to questions from The Hill about why OIG was denied access to the records.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House select committee and the House Homeland Security Committee, said that they had just received the letter and did not immediately know who deleted the text messages.

“Well, they were not clear as to how, they just know that they’re not there,” Thompson said.

“And we had asked them some time ago to look at it. So it didn’t come on the committee side, it came on the Homeland side. And this was their — it was a letter. I have not seen the report yet. So it’s concerning, obviously, and if there’s a way we can reconstruct the text … we will,” he added.

In a statement issued late Thursday, a Secret Service spokesman said that his agency had been cooperating with the DHS Office of the Inspector General and argued that “the insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false.”

The spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, acknowledged that some data was lost on mobile phones earlier this year after the agency started to reset its devices in January “as part of a pre-planned, three-month system migration.” But he claimed this began before an inspection had started.

Guglielmi further claimed that the Secret Service had alerted the DHS watchdog that there had been some loss of phone data once the Secret Service’s electronic communications were requested.

The Secret Service spokesperson said the DHS Office of the Inspector General had been told that texts pertaining to the investigation had not been impacted by the reset.

“DHS OIG’s allegation regarding DHS’s cooperation with its investigation is neither correct nor new. To the contrary, DHS OIG has previously alleged that its employees were not granted appropriate and timely access to materials due to attorney review,” he added.

“DHS has repeatedly and publicly debunked this allegation, including in response to OIG’s last two semi-annual reports to Congress. It is unclear why OIG is raising this issue again.”

A spokesperson for the DHS Office of the Inspector General declined to delve into the letter when reached for comment by The Intercept.

“To preserve the integrity of our work and protect our independence, we do not discuss our ongoing reviews or our communications with Congress,” the spokesperson told The Intercept.

The Hill has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General and U.S. Secret Service for comment.

Speaking to CNN last month, Marc Short, a former chief of staff to former Vice President Mike Pence, said he had contacted Secret Service ahead of the day of the Capitol riot.

“And I think with thousands of people descending upon Washington with hopes of a different outcome, I just thought it was important that they be alerted to that,” Short told the network. “But I didn’t have any specific intelligence, I did not have any knowledge the Capitol would be attacked the way it was.”

The Secret Service also came up during dramatic testimony to the Jan. 6 panel last month from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

She offered a secondhand account that Trump had tried to grab the steering wheel of the car he was in and tried to lunge at a member of Secret Service personnel after he was told he could not go to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Secret Service has denied that the altercation took place.

“The Secret Service has been cooperating fully with the select committee since its inception in spring of 2021 and we will continue to do so by responding formally and on the record to the committee regarding new allegations that surfaced in today’s testimony,” Secret Service said in a statement following her testimony.

Updated at 10:48 p.m.

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