- A DHS watchdog and the Secret Service are clashing over deleted texts sent on January 5 and 6, 2021.
- The DHS inspector general claims agents’ messages were erased after their records were requested.
- The Secret Service has refuted the claim, calling it a “false” insinuation of malicious conduct.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General Joseph Cuffari and the Secret Service have publicly clashed over the deletion of Secret Service agents’ text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021.
The conflict began when Cuffari sent a letter notifying the House Committee on Homeland Security, highlighting an “ongoing records access” issue with the DHS.
Cuffari wrote that “many” Secret Service agents’ text messages from the day of and day before the Capitol riot were erased “as part of a device-replacement program.” However, he also claimed that the messages were erased after a request was sent for Secret Service agent’s electronic communications to be handed over as part of an investigation into the event.
Cuffari added that there were “weeks-long delays” in having his office’s request met and that there was much “confusion” over whether all the records had been handed over. He also wrote that his office was repeatedly told that any records had to be vetted by DHS attorneys before they were sent over.
Politico verified that the letter was received by the House and Senate homeland security committees.
Responding to the letter, Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi tweeted that his agency took “strong issue with these categorically false claims.”
In a follow-up statement on Thursday night, Guglielmi said that Cuffari’s claims had been “debunked.” He further insisted that the re-setting of agents’ mobile phones was kicked off before the watchdog’s inspections began as part of a “pre-planned, three-month system migration.”
“The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false,” Guglielmi wrote. “In fact, the Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) in every respect – whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts.”
Sen. Gary Peters, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told CNN in a statement that Cuffari’s allegations were “concerning.”
“We need to get to the bottom of whether the Secret Service destroyed federal records or the Department of Homeland Security obstructed oversight,” Peters told the outlet. “The DHS Inspector General needs these records to do its independent oversight and the public deserves to have a full picture of what occurred on January 6th.”
Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the January 6 committee investigating the Capitol riot and the House Committee on Homeland Security, told CNN that the committee would be “briefed about this extraordinarily troubling destruction of records and respond accordingly.”
Cuffari did not imply in the letter that the texts had been intentionally wiped.
The House panel investigating the Capitol riot recently spotlighted the Secret Service’s actions on January 6 following the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
Hutchinson testified that she was told that then-President Donald Trump had lunged at Robert Engel — who headed Trump’s security detail — and tried to grab at the steering wheel after being told he could not join his supporters at the Capitol. Engel also told Congress that Trump privately pressed his detail to bring him to Capitol Hill, though that did not happen.
Carol Leonnig, the author of a book on the Service, also said Trump’s detail was “very, very close” to him and that its members were accused of being his “enablers and yes-men.”