Secret Service erased texts, Jan. 6 committee chair Bennie Thompson says

The House panel investigating the assault on the US Capitol is seeking to recover US Secret Service text messages that could shed light on then-President Donald Trump’s actions as the attack unfolded, but were erased.

“If there’s a way we can can reconstruct the texts or what have you, we will,” Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, told reporters at the Capitol Thursday.

Some of the most riveting testimony from the panel’s televised hearings concerned Trump’s actions after he addressed a rally near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021. A former aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, said she was told Trump wanted to join the mob then marching on the Capitol but was blocked by his security detail.

The texts could provide insight into that episode as well as security concerns surrounding then-Vice President Mike Pence, who had gone to the Capitol to preside over the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General has notified the committee that some text messages sent by Secret Service agents on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 were erased. 

Earlier: Jan. 6 Witness Account of Trump Outburst Gets Fresh Scrutiny

The inspector general, Joseph Cuffari, said in a letter to the committee that the texts were lost during an equipment replacement only after his office asked for them as part of its investigation of the assault. He offered to brief the committee on the situation.

Homeland Security personnel also repeatedly told the Inspector General’s staff “that they were not permitted to provide records directly to OIG and that such records had to first undergo review by DHS attorneys. This review led to weeks-long delays in OIG obtaining records and creating confusion over whether all records had been produced,” Cuffari said in the letter.

The Secret Service issued a statement Thursday saying, “The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false.”

The statement says some data was lost when the agency had begun to reset its mobile phones to factory settings in January 2021, before the Inspector General’s inspection began the next month. 

“The Secret Service notified DHS OIG of the loss of certain phones’ data, but confirmed to OIG that none of the texts it was seeking had been lost,” according to the statement.

Also, the agency said in the statement, Homeland Security has cooperated with the Inspector General and has “publicly debunked” the allegation that its employees weren’t granted access to materials due to attorney review.

It’s not the first time friction with the Secret Service has emerged over the Jan. 6 investigation.

After Hutchinson’s testimony, Tony Ornato, a long-time Secret Service agent who worked as a deputy chief of staff to Trump, told people that her account of being told that Trump lunged for the steering wheel of the presidential SUV to redirect it to the Capitol with the rioters wasn’t consistent with his understanding of the incident, according to a person familiar with Ornato’s denial who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Thompson, asked Thursday if the committee had plans to talk to Secret Service agents, said, “I think it’s important for us to get as much information about how this discrepancy occurred and go from there.”  

(Updates with Secret Service statement beginning in eighth paragraph)

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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