WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Capitol riot has subpoenaed the Secret Service for text messages agents reportedly deleted around Jan. 6, 2021, as the panel probes Donald Trump’s actions at the time of the deadly siege.
The committee chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the committee understands the messages had been “erased.” Thompson outlined an aggressive timeline for production of the documents by Tuesday.
“The USSS erased text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, as part of a ‘device-replacement program,’” Thompson said in a statement late Friday.
He said the panel “seeks the relevant text messages, as well as any after action reports that have been issued in any and all divisions of the USSS pertaining or relating in any way to the events of January 6, 2021.”
The Secret Service said the committee “has had our full and unwavering cooperation” since beginning its work and “that does not change,” according to a statement from agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. He added: ”We plan to continue that cooperation by responding swiftly to the Committee’s subpoena.”
After the closed briefing of the Department of Homeland Security (which oversees Secret Service), the nine-member panel was issued subpoenas. According to two sources familiar with this matter, lawmakers were informed about the Secret Service’s finding that texts had been deleted by the Secret Service since Jan. 6, as per the report.
That finding raised the startling prospect of lost evidence that could shed further light on then-President Donald Trump’s actions during the insurrection, particularly after earlier testimony about his confrontation with security as he tried to join supporters at the Capitol.
The subpoena was issued by the committee to an executive department, which is a rare thing.
The private briefing with the inspector general, Joseph Cuffari, came two days after his office sent a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees stating that Secret Service agents erased messages between Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021 “as part of a device-replacement program.” The deletion came after the watchdog office requested records from the agents as part of its probe into events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack, the letter said.
The original request for electronic records was made in January by the committee. In March, DHS officials requested all communication received from DHS workers between Jan. 5, 2021 and Jan 7, 2021.
Thompson said to The Associated Press that Thompson is asking the committee to look into whether any records might have been lost. “There have been some conflicting positions on the matter,” he said.
Two persons familiar with this matter confirmed the briefing, but they spoke under anonymity in order to confirm it.
According to the Secret Service, proper procedures were observed. Guglielmi said “the insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false.”
He said the Secret Service had started to reset its mobile devices to factory settings in January 2021 “as part of a pre-planned, three-month system migration.” In that process, some data was lost.
The inspector general has first requested the electronic communications on Feb. 26, “after the migration was well under way,” Guglielmi said.
The Secret Service stated that it had provided numerous chat messages and emails, including conversations about Jan. 6, and other details to the inspector General. It also said text messages from the Capitol Police requesting assistance on Jan. 6 were preserved and provided to the inspector general’s office.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service, is also expecting a briefing from the inspector general about the letter, according to a person familiar with the committee’s discussions who was not authorized to discuss them publicly.
Ohio senator Rob Portman, the top Republican on the committee, said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned” by the inspector general’s recent letter and that it was “essential that the Department be transparent with its inspector general, Congress, and the American public.”
The Jan. 6 committee has taken a renewed interest in the Secret Service following the dramatic testimony of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who recalled what she heard about Trump’s actions the day of the insurrection.
Hutchinson said she was told of a fight between Trump and his Secret Service detail. Trump demanded that he be driven to Capitol. His supporters later broke into the Capitol. Hutchinson also recalls hearing Trump tell security officers to take out magnetometers in preparation for the rally at Ellipse, even though some of Trump’s supporters were armed.
Agents quickly discredited some aspects of this account. Robert Engel, an agent driving the presidential SUV and Tony Ornato (Trump security official) are both willing to give evidence under oath. A person who is familiar with this matter said that Trump never reached for the steering column and neither was Engel. This person spoke only under condition of anonymity and would not speak publicly about the matter.
As evidence continues to emerge, the Jan.6 committee scheduled Thursday’s next hearing in prime-time. This eighth hearing in the series that started in June will provide a more detailed look at the nearly three hour-plus period when Trump and his supporters stormed Capitol.
It will be the first hearing in prime time since June 9, the first on the committee’s findings. This hearing had been viewed 20 million times.
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