WASHINGTON — The Secret Service erased text messages from both Jan. 6 and the day before the attack on the Capitol after the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog requested records of electronic communications tied to the insurrection, according to a letter sent to congressional committees that was obtained by NBC News.
The details about the erased messages were revealed in a letter to two congressional committees Wednesday, in which Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari said he was informed that many of the messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021, had been erased “as part of a device-replacement program.”
The Intercept first reported the content of the letters.
A spokesperson for the House Homeland Security Committee confirmed the letter, which was also given to the Jan. 6 committee, a source familiar with the matter confirmed.
Cuffari’s letter was also addressed to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“The USSS erased those text messages after OIG requested records of electronic communications from the USSS, as part of our evaluation of events at the Capitol on January 6,” Cuffari said in his letter.
He added that DHS personnel had repeatedly told inspectors that “they were not permitted to provide records directly” to the watchdog and that the records first needed to be reviewed by the agency’s attorneys.
“This review led to weeks-long delays in OIG obtaining records and created confusion over whether all records had been produced,” he said.
Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi insisted in a statement that the agency has fully cooperated with the inspector general’s review and that the text messages were lost before they were requested.
“The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false,” Guglielmi said. “In fact, the Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the OIG in every respect — whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts.”
According to Guglielmi, the Secret Service began a “pre-planned, three-month system migration” in January 2021 that included resetting its mobile phones to factory settings, resulting in the loss of data for some phones. The system migration was “well underway” by the time the inspector general first requested electronic communications on Feb. 26, 2021, he added.
Guglielmi went on to say that the agency had notified the inspector general’s office of the data loss on some phones and confirmed that “none of the texts it was seeking had been lost in the migration.”
A spokesperson for the DHS inspector general declined to “discuss our ongoing reviews or our communications with Congress.”
The Secret Service, whose director announced last week that he was stepping down after having served in the role since May 2019, is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
The erased text messages are likely to put a new focus on the Secret Service’s actions surrounding the Jan. 6 riot.
Last month, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson delivered bombshell testimony that involved a description of a physical altercation between former President Donald Trump and his top security official.
Hutchinson said that in conversations with her, Secret Service official Tony Ornato described a livid Trump grabbing for the steering wheel from the back seat, wrestling with one of the bodyguards for control of the car and ultimately grabbing the bodyguard’s throat when he learned he was being driven back to the White House instead of to the Capitol to join his supporters after his speech at the Ellipse.
Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., a member of both the Jan. 6 committee and House Homeland Security Committee, described the inspector general’s letter as “very concerning” during an MSNBC interview Thursday night.
“It’s critical that we have all of the government records including these types of records that document the events of that day,” Luria said. “We plan to work with the inspector general, get to the bottom of this and try to determine what the situation is with these records that have been requested by the committee for some time.”
Julia Ainsley contributed.