Members of the US Secret Service deleted text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, shortly after the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security requested them as part of an investigation into the agency’s response to the assault on the US Capitol, according to a letter written by the inspector general to congressional leaders and obtained by CBS News.
In a letter sent to the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees, DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari wrote that although his office was informed that texts had been erased as part of a program replacement of devices, the erasure of the devices occurred after a request for electronic communications. .
“First, the Department has informed us that numerous United States Secret Service text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021 have been erased as part of a device replacement program. The USSS has erased these text messages after the OIG requested records of electronic communications from the USSS, as part of our assessment of the events at the Capitol on January 6,” Cuffari wrote in the letter.
“Second, DHS staff repeatedly told OIG inspectors that they were not authorized to provide records directly to the OIG and that those records must first be reviewed by DHS attorneys. “, continues the letter. “This review caused delays of several weeks for the OIG to obtain records and created confusion as to whether all records had been produced.”
US Secret Service spokesman Steve Kopek called the insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following the DHS Inspector General’s request “false” in a statement. released Thursday evening, adding that the agency had “fully cooperated with the OIG in every respect – whether it was interviews, documents, emails or text messages.”
“First, in January 2021, prior to any OIG inspections being initiated on this matter, the USSS began resetting its mobile phones to factory settings as part of a pre-system migration. planned for three months. In the process, data residing on some phones was lost,” the statement continued.
“The DHS OIG first requested electronic communications on February 26, 2021, when the migration was well underway. The Secret Service informed the DHS OIG of the loss of some phone data, but confirmed to the OIG that none of the texts he was looking for had been lost in the migration.”
According to Kopek, the inspector general’s insistence that his employees were not granted “proper and timely access to documents due to counsel’s review” has been “debunked repeatedly and publicly” in previous reports to Congress. “It is unclear why the OIG is raising this issue again,” he added.
But the agency did not dispute the inspector general’s claim that some of the USSS agents’ messages were erased during the migration.
The agency said the Secret Service passed 786,176 unredacted emails and 7,678 Microsoft Teams chat messages to the DHS Inspector General, all of which referenced conversations and operational details related to Jan. 6 and to the preparations that preceded it. These messages include text messages from the United States Capitol Police to the Chief of the Secret Service Uniformed Division requesting emergency assistance at the Capitol.
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol declined to comment. The DHS Inspector General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request from CBS News.
“We need to determine whether the Secret Service destroyed federal records or whether the Department of Homeland Security interfered with surveillance,” said Sen. Gary Peters, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “The DHS Inspector General needs these records to perform his independent oversight and the public deserves to have a full picture of what happened on January 6th. I will learn more from the DHS Inspector General on these allegations regarding.”
Ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said he was “deeply concerned” about the letter, in a statement to CBS News. “It’s critical that the Department be transparent with its inspector general, Congress, and the American public,” Portman added.
Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who chairs both the House Homeland Security and January 6 committees, said the former “will be made aware of this extraordinarily disturbing destruction of documents and will respond accordingly,” in a statement to CBS News.
News of the agency’s alleged efforts to erase communications comes just a week after the US. The 32-year veteran of the federal government plans to leave at the end of July.
The letter does not say whether the top DHS watchdog believes the email communications were intentionally suppressed in an effort to evade transparency, but adds to the uncertainty surrounding the Secret Service’s response to the insurgency. January 6.
Last month,with his supporters as Congress was in joint session to count the ballots, during a Jan. 6 Committee hearing.
Hutchinson testified that she spoke with White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Tony Ornato in a room with Robert Engel, the Secret Service special agent in charge on Jan. 6. According to Hutchinson, during the meeting, Ornato indicated that the president became “furious” in his vehicle when he was told he could not go to the Capitol. He said something like “I’m the fucking president, take me to the Capitol now,” Hutchinson said. The Intercept was the first to report the DHS Inspector General’s letter.
When told he had to return to the West Wing, Trump reached out to the front of the vehicle to grab the steering wheel, prompting Engel to grab his arm, Hutchinson said Ornato told him.
But a source close to the Secret Service confirmed to CBS News that Engel and the driver are prepared to testify under oath that neither man was physically attacked or assaulted by Trump and that the former president did not never rushed behind the wheel of the vehicle.
After Hutchinson’s testimony, Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the agency was “cooperating” with the committee and would “continue to do so, including by formally responding…regarding new allegations” that have surfaced. during the hearing.
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