Jan. 6 panel aims to "reconstruct" deleted Secret Service texts
The chair of the Jan. 6 select committee on Thursday said the panel will try to ”reconstruct" deleted U.S. Secret Service text messages flagged by an agency watchdog.
Why it matters: The text messages were from Jan. 5 and 6 and may have contained evidence about key events related to the Capitol attack — the focus of the panel’s hearing next Thursday.
- They could shed light on reported efforts to remove former Vice President Mike Pence from the Capitol, and former President Trump's alleged attempts to travel to the Capitol to join his supporters on that day.
- The agency — and in particular Anthony Ornato, an agent who also served as White House deputy chief of staff — was a central subject of former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony to the panel last month.
Driving the news: The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, which parents the Secret Service, offered a briefing on the subject in a letter to Jan. 6 Committee Chair Bennie Thompson first reported by The Intercept and obtained by Axios.
- Inspector General Joseph Cuffari wrote that DHS said the texts were "erased as part of a device-replacement program."
- But, he added, they were erased "after OIG requested records of electronic communications from the USSS, as part of our evaluation of events at the Capitol on Jan. 6."
- Cuffari also wrote that DHS claimed all records had to be reviewed by the department's attorneys, leading to "weeks-long delays" in obtaining the records and creating "confusion over whether all records had been produced."
What they're saying: "It's concerning, obviously. If there's a way we can reconstruct the texts or what have you, we will," Thompson, who also chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, told Axios at the Capitol on Thursday.
- Thompson said the inspector general "was not clear as to how" the texts were deleted, adding that the committee "asked them some time ago to look at it."
- Asked if the committee would bring in Secret Service agents to try to reconstruct the texts, he said, "I think it's important for us to get as much information about how this discrepancy occurred."
- Thompson said the Jan. 6 panel has not yet interviewed Ornato and Robert Engel, another agent mentioned in Hutchinson's testimony, but said, "We've been talking to them."
The other side: Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement, "The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false."
- He said his agency has been "fully cooperating" with the inspector general's office and denied allegations that DHS has slow-rolled turning over materials.
- According to Guglielmi, the Secret Service "began to reset its mobile phones to factory settings as part of a pre-planned, three-month system migration" starting in January, in which "data resident on some phones was lost."
- He said the inspector general's office made its request for electronic communications in late February "after the migration was well under way," adding that "none of the texts [OIG] was seeking had been lost in the migration."
The details: The Secret Service has turned over roughly 786,176 emails and 7,678 internal messages that reference conversations and operational details related to Jan. 6, according to a Secret Service official.
- They also turned over a text from the Capitol Police to the chief of the Secret Service Uniformed Division requesting emergency assistance on Jan .6.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with the Secret Service's response.