Did the Secret Service erase text messages from the day of, and the day before, the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol? According to the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog, which requested records of electronic communications tied to the insurrection, that’s precisely what happened.
NBC News reported on the DHS letter sent to congressional committees.
The details about the erased messages were revealed in a letter to two congressional committees Wednesday, in which Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari said he was informed that many of the messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021, had been erased “as part of a device-replacement program.”
The Intercept was first to report on the content of the letters.
Cuffari specifically claimed in his letter, “The [U.S. Secret Service] erased those text messages after [the office of the inspector general] requested records of electronic communications.” The investigator added that Homeland Security personnel repeatedly told inspectors that “they were not permitted to provide records directly” to the watchdog office.
The allegations come just a few weeks after The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig, who covers the Secret Service closely and wrote a bestseller on the agency, told Rachel Maddow during an MSNBC appearance, “There was a very large contingent of Donald Trump’s detail who were personally cheering for [Joe] Biden to fail. And some of them even took to their personal media accounts to cheer on the insurrection and the individuals riding up to the Capitol as patriots. That is problematic.”
Those comments came on the heels of testimony from a top aide to former Vice President Mike Pence who suggested the Republican Hoosier was reluctant to leave the Capitol during the attack because he wasn’t sure if the Secret Service would keep him away during the certification process.
It’s important to emphasize that the Secret Service has pushed back hard against the inspector general’s claims about the texts. As NBC News’ report added, Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesperson for the agency, insisted that the text messages were lost before they were requested.
According to Guglielmi, the Secret Service began a “pre-planned, three-month system migration” in January 2021 that included resetting its mobile phones to factory settings, resulting in the loss of data for some phones. The system migration, he claimed, was “well underway” by the time the inspector general first requested electronic communications on Feb. 26, 2021.
That said, congressional investigators do not appear entirely persuaded by the official explanation.
Axios reported overnight that Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chair of the Jan. 6 committee, was asked whether congressional investigators might try to reconstruct the texts. “I think it’s important for us to get as much information about how this discrepancy occurred,” he responded.
What’s more, NBC News confirmed this morning that the Homeland Security inspector general briefed all nine members of the Jan. 6 select committee today, specifically on the matter of the missing texts.
Watch this space.
Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”