Secret Service Denies Charges it Failed to Deliver ‘Erased’ Texts from January 6 to House Panel

Secret Service Denies Charges it Failed to Deliver ‘Erased’ Texts from January 6 to House Panel
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House Jan. 6 panel, delivers closing remarks alongside Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) during the sixth hearing on the Jan. 6 investigation in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington on June 28, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Joseph Lord

The House Jan. 6 panel said on July 19 that the Secret Service failed to deliver subpoenaed text messages from Jan. 5–6, 2021, which the panel said had been “erased.” However, the Secret Service has denied the charge, saying that the missing texts are accounted for by standard agency policy not to discuss security situations over text.

A cache of Secret Service agent text messages from the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, which had been subpoenaed by the House committee for delivery by the morning of July 20, did not contain texts from Jan. 5 and 6, which the committee considered crucial, according to panel member Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.).

“We received a letter today that did provide us with a lot of documents and some data. However, we did not receive the additional text messages that we were looking for,” Murphy said during a TV appearance.

The texts were allegedly “erased” after a device replacement program upgraded the mobile devices of Secret Service agents, Murphy said.

Murphy explained: “They moved ahead with their efforts to migrate the devices and the data, and their process, as explained to us, was simply to leave it to the agent to determine whether or not there was anything on their phones worth saving that was necessary to save for federal records. And as a result, today they did not receive any texts from their agents when they made that transition that was flagged for preservation.”

However, the Secret Service has denied the charge that they erased any text messages, a charge which was first reported to the Jan. 6 panel by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Joseph Cuffari.

Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi insisted in a statement to another media outlet that there were no “hidden messages” or other information that the Secret Service was “holding out” from the panel.

The missing texts, Guglielmi said, can largely be explained by an agency policy that generally frowns on the use of texts when discussing security situations.

“It’s hard for people to understand, but we do not communicate via text message,” he said. “It is in policy that you do not conduct business via text message.”

Some members of the panel appeared unconcerned with the development, expressing optimism that they could receive the information through other avenues.

“One thing I’ve learned in this process is that when one evidentiary door closes, another one will open and we’ll find a way,” panel member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told reporters following the delivery of the texts by the Secret Service on July 19.

Raskin added, however, that he would be “shocked and horrified” if leaders in the Secret Service had permitted the erasure of these texts.

“Without commenting on the specifics of that situation, I will say that I would be shocked and horrified if anyone in a position of leadership oversaw the destruction of evidence related to the Jan. 6 insurrection,” Raskin said.

Secret Service spokesman Guglielmi insisted that there was no malicious intent on the part of the Secret Service.

“There’s no reason for us to say the texts were lost,“ he said. ”I mean, how do you know that those people texted? They were told to upload their official records, and they did. So this is partly what we’re going to communicate to the committee, all of the data that we have. People say texts were lost. How do you know texts were sent?”

On the other hand, Murphy said that if a device upgrade program was responsible for the loss of any text messages, Secret Service leadership had received congressional orders to retain texts and should have done more to ensure their preservation.

“They received four requests from congressional committees on Jan. 16 to preserve records, and they had this planned migration for the 25th, I believe, of January, and nobody along the way stopped and thought, ‘Well, maybe we shouldn’t do the migration of data and of the devices until we are able to fulfill these four requests from Congress,’” Murphy said.

The National Archives, which preserves all federal government documents, has also demanded an explanation for the missing texts, if such exist.

“If it is determined that any text messages have been improperly deleted (regardless of their relevance to the OIG/Congressional inquiry of the events on January 6, 2021), then the Secret Service must send NARA a report within 30 calendar days of the date of this letter with a report documenting the deletion,” Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer of the National Archives said in a letter to the custodian of records at DHS.

“This report must include a complete description of the records affected, a statement of the exact circumstances surrounding the deletion of messages, a statement of the safeguards established to prevent further loss of documentation, and details of all agency actions taken to salvage, retrieve, or reconstruct the records,” Brewer added.

Contested Testimony About Trump

The development comes in the wake of testimony to the committee by former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who made wide-reaching claims about former President Donald Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6.

During a June 28 hearing by the Jan. 6 committee, Hutchinson related several alleged disputes between Trump and the Secret Service on Jan. 6.

According to Hutchinson, the first of these came during Trump’s rally at the Ellipse prior to the Capitol breach. The rally, Hutchinson said, looked too small to Trump.

She said he blamed this on the use of magnetometers by the Secret Service. Magnetometers, used by security forces to detect weapons, had been placed at the entrance to the Trump rally that day.

Upset by the smaller crowd size, Trump allegedly asked the Secret Service to remove them.

“‘I don’t [expletive] care that they have weapons, they’re not here to hurt me, take the [expletive] mags away,‘” Hutchinson claimed Trump said. “‘Let my people in, they can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the [expletive] mags away.’”

Later, Hutchinson said, Trump grew frustrated after the Secret Service refused to allow him to join supporters at the Capitol protest because the area had not been secured.

Hutchinson then claimed that Trump lunged at a Secret Service agent in anger after they refused to take him to the Capitol before trying to seize the steering wheel from the driver of his vehicle.

However, both Trump and the Secret Service have denied the charge, with some Secret Service agents reportedly saying that they would testify under oath that the events Hutchinson described in the White House limousine had not occurred.

In a post on Truth Social, Trump said, “[Hutchinson’s] Fake story that I tried to grab the steering wheel of the White House Limousine in order to steer it to the Capitol Building is ‘sick’ and fraudulent, very much like the Unselect Committee itself. Wouldn’t even have been possible to do such a ridiculous thing.”

Reportedly, a source close to the Secret Service told NBC’s Peter Alexander that “both Bobby Engel, the lead agent, [and the agent allegedly lunged at by Trump] and the presidential limousine/SUV driver are prepared to testify under oath that neither man was assaulted and that Mr. Trump never lunged for the steering wheel.”

Given her distance from the president, and given the denials streaming in in the aftermath of the last-minute hearings, Hutchinson’s testimony remains largely contested and uncorroborated.