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US Secret Service members deleted text messages from January 5-6 after messages were requested, watchdog says


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 had been notified that the texts were erased as part of a device replacement program, removal of the devices occurred after a request for electronic communications. .

“First, the Department notified us that many US Secret Service text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021 were deleted as part of a device replacement program. The USSS deleted those text messages after The OIG requested records of electronic communications from the USSS as part of our assessment of the events on Capitol Hill on January 6,” Cuffari wrote in the letter.

“Second, OIG inspectors have been repeatedly told by DHS staff that they are not permitted to provide records directly to the OIG and that such records must first be reviewed by DHS attorneys,” the letter continues. . “This review caused weeks-long delays in obtaining records from the OIG and created confusion as to whether all the records had been produced.”

US Secret Service spokesman Steve Kopek called “false” “the suggestion that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages” following the DHS Inspector General’s request, in a statement Thursday. in the evening, adding that the agency has been “fully cooperating with the OIG in every respect, whether it be interviews, documents, emails or text messages.”

“First, in January 2021, before the OIG opened any inspection on this issue, USSS began resetting its mobile phones to factory settings as part of a three-month pre-planned system migration. In that process, the resident data on some phones were lost,” the statement continued.

“DHS OIG first requested electronic communications on February 26, 2021, after the migration was underway. The Secret Service notified DHS OIG of the loss of data from certain phones, but confirmed to OIG that none of the messages text you were looking for had been lost in migration.

According to Kopek, the inspector general’s insistence that his employees were not granted “appropriate and timely access to materials due to attorney review,” has been “publicly and repeatedly debunked” in previous reports to Congress. “It is not clear 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 had been deleted during the migration.

The agency said the Secret Service turned over 786,176 unredacted emails and 7,678 Microsoft Teams chat messages to the DHS inspector general, all containing reference conversations and operational details related to Jan. 6 and the buildup to it. Those messages include text messages from the US Capitol Police to the head of the Secret Service’s Uniformed Division requesting emergency assistance on Capitol Hill.

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol declined to comment. The DHS inspector general’s office did not immediately respond to a request from CBS News.

“We need to get to the bottom of whether the Secret Service destroyed federal records or the Department of Homeland Security obstructed oversight,” said Senator Gary Peters, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “The DHS Inspector General needs these records to conduct independent oversight of him, and the public deserves a full picture of what happened on January 6. I will learn more from the DHS Inspector General about these troubling allegations.”

A ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said he is “deeply concerned” about the letter, in a statement to CBS News. “It is essential that the Department be transparent with its inspector general, Congress and the American public,” added Portman.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who chairs the House Homeland Security and Jan. 6 committees, said the former “will be briefed on this extraordinarily troubling record destruction 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. Secret Service Director James Murray has announced his retirement from his post.. The 32-year veteran of the federal government plans to leave at the end of July.

The letter does not indicate whether DHS’s top watchdog believes the electronic communications were intentionally deleted in an effort to evade transparency, but it adds to the uncertainty surrounding the Secret Service’s response to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Last month, White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson described former President Trump’s desire to go to Capitol Hill with his supporters while Congress was in a joint session counting the ballots, during a Committee hearing on January 6.

Hutchinson testified that he had spoken with White House deputy chief of staff for operations Tony Ornato in a room with Robert Engel, the special agent in charge of the Secret Service on January 6. According to Hutchinson, during the meeting, Ornato conveyed that the president became “furious” in his vehicle when he was told that he could not go to the Capitol. He was like, “I’m the fucking president, take me to the Capitol now,” Hutchinson said. The Intercept was the first to report on the letter from the DHS inspector general.

When told he had to return to the West Wing, Trump reached 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 was attacked or physically assaulted by Trump and that the former president never jumped behind the wheel of the vehicle.

Following Hutchinson’s testimony, Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the agency “has been cooperating” with the committee and “will continue to do so, including responding officially … regarding new allegations” that emerged at the hearing. .



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