The Secret Service’s account of how text messages from the day before and the day of the Capitol attack were erased has changed several times, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general told the House Select Committee on January 6 during a Friday briefing.
At one point the Secret Service’s explanation for the lost texts was due to software upgrades, the inspector general told the panel, while at another point the explanation was due to device replacements .
The inspector general also said that although the Secret Service chose to have his office conduct a review of the agency’s response to the Capitol attack instead of conducting after-action reports, he later blocked the review. slowly producing documents.
After the Inspector General raised his complaints, he then discussed the feasibility of reconstructing the texts. But the issues so alarmed the select committee that the panel decided hours later to subpoena the Secret Service, according to briefing attendees.
The series of rapid developments on Capitol Hill reflected how the erasure of Secret Service texts – first revealed in a letter to Congress by Inspector General Joseph Cuffari – has become a top priority for the investigation. of Congress on January 6.
The circumstances surrounding the erasure of Secret Service texts from the day before and the day of the Capitol attack have become central to the select committee as it investigates how it planned to move Donald Trump and Mike Pence as and as the violence unfolded.
The texts are potentially important to investigators because the Secret Service played a crucial role in preventing Donald Trump from going to the Capitol that day and wanted to remove then-Vice President Mike Pence from the compound, according to the panel.
In the letter, the inspector general said that some Secret Service texts from January 5 and January 6, 2021 were erased as part of a “device replacement program” even after requesting the messages for his investigation. internal.
The Secret Service disputed this, saying in a statement that data from some phones was lost as part of a pre-planned “system migration” in January 2021, and that Cuffari’s initial request for disclosure came from weeks later, end of February 2021.
But the select committee questioned the Secret Service’s emphasis on that date, participants said, and noted in the subpoena letter that the request for electronic communications actually came from Congress, ten days after the Attack on the Capitol.
The Jan. 16, 2021, congressional request to multiple executive branch agencies — including the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service — was for all documents referencing or related to the riot.
Members of the select committee were privately skeptical that the Secret Service had managed to inadvertently erase key messages during a 10-day period that was perhaps among the most tumultuous for the agency, participants said.
If some of the texts were deliberately redacted after the January 16, 2021 request, it could constitute an obstruction of a congressional investigation, one of the select committee members added on Friday.
A Secret Service spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
The select committee has spent the past few days trying to establish whether all of the texts from January 5 and January 6, 2021 have been lost or just some, exactly how the texts were erased and whether additional days of texts from this month were faded away.
Briefing attendees said Cuffari was unable to provide clear answers to these questions, beyond understanding only part of the texts from the day before and the day of the Capitol attack. remain untraceable.
The unanswered questions were due to a lack of transparency by the secret service, participants said, Cuffari said. During the briefing, Cuffari said the explanation for the lost texts moved from software upgrades to device upgrades to yet other issues.
Cuffari also expressed optimism to the select committee that erased texts could be reconstructed through previous message backups or tools available to federal law enforcement, attendees said.
The Justice Department’s inspector general has already been able to recover lost texts, using ‘forensic tools’ in 2018 to recover messages from two senior FBI officials who investigated former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Trump and exchanged notes criticizing the latter.
The controversy over the deleted Secret Service texts erupted on Wednesday after Cuffari’s letter became public, and the select committee has bent over backwards to assess the impact on its investigation.
This prompted select committee chairman Bennie Thompson to discuss the matter with panel personnel director David Buckley and his deputy Kristen Amerling and later with the full select committee, who asked Cuffari to provide an in camera briefing.