House January 6 panel subpoenas Secret Service for allegedly deleted text messages

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The Guardian

The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack has issued a subpoena to the US Secret Service for text messages from 5 January and 6 January 2021 understood to have been erased, pursuing what investigators suspect might be an instance of corruptly destroyed records.

The subpoena issued late on Friday – the first to an executive branch agency – compelled the production of messages and after-action reports concerning the attack as part of a sweeping records demand aiming to establish the circumstances around the erasure of some communications and obtain any that remain.

Congressman Bennie Thompson, the chair of the select committee, indicated in a letter to the director of the secret service, James Murray, that the agency tasked with protecting the president and the vice president, should be able to produce the messages given its spokesperson claimed none of the texts in question were lost.

The disclosure that texts among secret service agents from the day before and the day of the Capitol attack were erased in a “device-replacement program” came in a letter to Congress from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, the watchdog for the secret service.

On Friday morning, the source said, the inspector general, Joseph Cuffari, also complained to the select committee the secret service opted to have him do an internal review of the agency’s response to January 6 in lieu of after-action reports – only to stonewall that internal review.

The select committee, at that briefing with the inspector general, also heard that the secret service’s story about how the texts were lost kept changing. Initially, the source said, Cuffari was told they were lost during software upgrades; later, he was told it was during a process to replace cellphones for staff across the agency.

The subpoena for the texts and any after-action reports – which the panel suspects likely do not exist, according to the source – are aimed at obtaining any texts that might have not been lost, and to obtain any paper trails about how the texts that were lost came to be erased.

January 6 investigators, in conjunction with Cuffari, are also examining whether the missing texts can be reconstructed using forensic tools available to federal law enforcement, the Guardian first reported.

The texts are significant for January 6 investigators as the Secret Service played a crucial role in preventing Donald Trump from going to the Capitol on that day, and according to the panel, wanted to remove then-vice president Mike Pence from the complex.

January 6 investigators believe that the texts from the day of the Capitol attack could shed light on how the Secret Service wanted to move Donald Trump and Mike Pence, while texts from the day before could provide greater clarity on how security plans developed, the sources said.

Days before the Capitol attack, the Secret Service assessed that it could likely not guarantee Trump’s safety if he went to the Capitol on January 6 and, according to a person familiar with the report, conveyed that to senior staff in the White House.

On the day of the Capitol attack, according to testimony by the former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, the Secret Service played a major part in stopping Trump going to the Capitol by driving back to the West Wing after his speech at the Ellipse.

The committee believes Secret Service text messages could provide a record for security plans for January 6. It was not clear whether texts from Anthony Ornato, a former agent who became a White House deputy chief of staff, and Trump’s lead agent, Bobby Engel, were among messages erased during a “device-replacement program”.

July 16, 2022 at 10:57AM Hugo Lowell in Washington

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