Secret Service agents deleted text messages exchanged around the time of the Capitol riot, according to a government watchdog that sought the communications as part of their investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General said messages sent between Jan. 5 and 6 were deleted “as part of a device-replacement program,” according to a letter to lawmakers, dated Wednesday, obtained by the Associated Press.
The messages were erased after OIG requested electronic communications between the agents during its probe into the Capitol siege.
Homeland Security personnel were also told they couldn’t provide records to the inspector general and any records would first have to be reviewed by DHS attorneys.
“This review led to a weeks-long delays in OIG obtaining records and created confusion over whether all records had been produced,” the letter, which was shared with leaders of the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees, states.
The Secret Service, in response, denied any malintent with the erasure of the messages.
“The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false. In fact, the Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the OIG in every respect — whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts,” the federal agency said in a statement, obtained by Politico.
The Secret Service claimed that it launched a pre-planned, three-month program to replace staff phones to improve communications and security across the agency beginning in Jan. 2021.
“In that process, data resident on some phones was lost,” the agency said.
OIG did not request communications data until Feb. 26, 2021, according to the Secret Service.
“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.”
The Secret Service also claimed “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. 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.”
Two sources familiar with the documents request told the Washington Post that as many as a third of the agency’s personnel had received replacement cell phones by the time of the request, the sources said.
If the old text messages sent on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021 were not backed up then the information is lost, the paper reported. The phone replacement program does not appear to have affected emails.
The erasure, which was first reported by The Intercept, opens up a new potential channel of questioning from the House select committee investigating the capitol riots, especially in light of former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s bombshell testimony last month before the panel about the former President’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021.
Hutchinson, who worked for Trump’s final chief of staff, Mark Meadows, claimed in her dramatic testimony that Trump attempted to overpower his Secret Service detail and commandeer the presidential SUV in a bid to join the throng of his supporters seeking to overturn the election results.
With Post Wires