Secret Service is Under Fire for Deleting Texts and Taking Actions on January 6!
The Secret Service is in trouble after it was found that it had deleted text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021. This brings up questions about how honest the agency has been in its investigations of the attack on the Capitol and the actions and motivations of its agents.
The fight became public when the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told lawmakers that it couldn’t get “many” of the messages from those days because of a “device-replacement program.”
The incident has made people wonder what the agency was trying to do. The government watchdog says it has been hard to get information from the Secret Service for a long time, and other people say that at the very least, erasing the records seems to go against laws about keeping records.
“After January 6, it should have been crystal clear that there was a need to preserve records even in the absence of [an inspector general] request,” said Nick Schwellenbach, senior investigator at the Project on Government Oversight. “You’d think that you might want to make sure nothing happened that would potentially look like a cover-up or risk inadvertently losing relevant records.”
The agency is trying to put out the fire by saying that the information wasn’t deleted on purpose after it got a request for the records and that the device migration operation was already in progress before it got the request.
“The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false,” Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement Thursday evening.
It’s the third big news story for an agency that usually stays out of the spotlight in the last two weeks.
Monday, one of its agents was taken out of Israel after getting into a fight there. And the Secret Service has been at the center of explosive testimony from White House staffer Cassidy Hutchinson after two of its agents said they wanted to dispute her story that Trump lunged at a driver after being told he couldn’t go with his supporters to the Capitol on January 6.
Speaking with The Hill on Friday, Guglielmi said the agency has been nothing but cooperative with Jan. 6 investigations.
“We have given nearly 800,000 records to the committee. We’ve made every person available that they have requested. And we will continue to make every person available because it is important,” he said.
“No one in the Secret Service wants to see another uprising like the one on January 6.” The job of the Secret Service is to keep democracy safe. The president of the United States is safe with us. We guard the office and the symbol.”
The Wednesday letter from DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to the chairman and ranking members on the House and Senate Homeland Security committees revealing the erased messages was first reported by The Intercept.
In a critical assertion, Cuffari said that those messages were erased after the inspector general had requested communications from the Secret Service as part of its evaluation of Jan. 6.
The Secret Service strongly disagrees with the idea that it deleted text messages on purpose. It has also found flaws in the timeline of when the messages were deleted.
The agency started a system migration process in January 2021, before it had received requests from the inspector general in late February 2021, it said.
“In that process, data resident on some phones was lost,” Guglielmi said, adding that the Secret Service said it told the inspector general that “none of the texts it was seeking had been lost in the migration.”
The Secret Service said it has provided many records related to Jan. 6 and preparations for the day to the inspector general, including approximately 786,176 unredacted emails, and 7,678 Teams chat messages by Secret Service employees. It also said that it provided a Jan. 6 text message from the U.S. Capitol Police requesting emergency assistance at the Capitol, suggesting that not every message from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 was erased.
Guglielmi said the Secret Service does not have a “culture” of sending many text messages primarily due to security concerns. Those messages would be routed through various cell carriers and be too ripe for infiltration, he said. Secret Service members do carry cell phones, but they do not use iCloud and do not even have access to the app store. Instead, they primarily rely on a secure email system, though any texts are supposed to be uploaded to the secure system.
On Friday morning, the House Jan. 6 Select Committee met with the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.
Jan. 6 Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who also chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, said that the DHS inspector general gave his perspective on the “impediments” he had encountered. The committee will “move toward engaging the Secret Service,” Thompson said and will see if there is a way to “reconstruct” the lost text messages.
If the Secret Service lost the messages for good, they may have broken federal law.
Schwellenbach, the senior investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, said that text messages about official government business are the kind of records that need to be kept because of the Federal Records Act. There is no way to keep records from being deleted because of migration.
“If records were lost, and there’s solid evidence that this was done by the Secret Service to hide information from the IG or anyone else, there are criminal penalties that could apply,” Schwellenbach said.
Schwellenbach said that moving systems during a change of president was a “terrible idea,” even if it wasn’t done on purpose.
The fact that the erased messages were found has given rise to theories of bad intentions.
On his show Friday morning, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said, “There must be legal consequences for that.” “The Secret Service seems to be trying to protect Donald Trump.”
Messages between Secret Service agents would help fill in more details about what happened that day. They might also give more information about why Vice President Mike Pence allegedly refused to leave the Capitol on January 6, even though the Secret Service asked him to.
“I’m not getting in the car,” Pence reportedly said on Jan. 6. “If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off.”
If he had been taken away, Pence might not have been able to get back to the Capitol to make the election official. Some people think that the Secret Service did not want Pence to certify the votes on purpose.
There have been rumours that many Secret Service agents want to please Trump and are loyal to him.
Secret Service Assistant Director Tony Ornato became Trump’s deputy chief of staff in 2019, an unusual role for a career Secret Service official. Ornato is now back to being the agency’s assistant director in charge of training and professional development, according to its website.
In an MSNBC interview last month, Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, who wrote a book about the Secret Service, said that Pence and other aides were “incredibly suspicious” of the “palace guards, so to speak, and their alignment with Donald Trump, and whether or not they were pulling the strings if Vice President Pence climbed into that car.”
Ornato in particular was suspected by a top Pence aide as being someone who “would try to whisk Vice President Pence away from the Capitol at a critical moment,” Leonnig said.