Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Jan 6 committee subpoenas Secret Service over deleted text messages

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — The House committee investigating unrest on Capitol Hill has subpoenaed the Secret Service for text messages that agents allegedly deleted around Jan. 6, 2021, as the panel investigates Donald Trump’s actions in the moment of the deadly siege.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the committee understands the posts had been “deleted.” Thompson outlined an aggressive schedule for the production of the documents before Tuesday.

“The USSS deleted the text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021 as part of a ‘device replacement program,'” Thompson said in a statement Friday night.

READ MORE: Government watchdog says Secret Service agents deleted text messages from January 6

He said the panel is “searching for relevant text messages as well as any after-action reports that have been issued from any and all USSS divisions pertaining to or in any way related to the events of January 6, 2021.” .

The Secret Service said the committee “has had our full and unwavering cooperation” since it began its work and “that doesn’t change,” according to a statement from agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. He added: “We plan to continue that cooperation by responding quickly to the Committee’s subpoena.”

The subpoenas come hours after the nine-member panel received a sealed report from the Department of Homeland Security watchdog, which oversees the Secret Service. Lawmakers were briefed on their finding that the Secret Service removed text from around Jan. 6, according to two people familiar with the matter.

That finding raised the alarming possibility that evidence could be lost that could shed more light on then-President Donald Trump’s actions during the insurrection, particularly after earlier testimony about his run-in with security while trying to join supporters on Capitol Hill.

It was a rare step for the committee to issue a subpoena to an executive branch department.

The private briefing with Inspector General Joseph Cuffari came two days after his office sent a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees alleging Secret Service agents erased messages between January 5 and 6, 2021 “as part of a device replacement program.” The removal came after the watchdog office requested the officers’ records as part of its investigation into the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack, according to the letter.

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The committee had originally searched the electronic records in mid-January and made an official request in March for all communications received or sent by DHS employees between January 5 and 7, 2021.

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Thompson told The Associated Press on Friday that the committee is looking further into whether the records may have been lost. “There have been some conflicting positions on the matter,” she said.

The report was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss it.

The Secret Service insists that proper procedures were followed. Guglielmi said that “the suggestion that the Secret Service maliciously deleted the text messages following a request is false.”

It said the Secret Service had begun resetting its mobile devices to factory settings in January 2021 “as part of a pre-planned three-month system migration.” In that process, some data was lost.

The inspector general first requested the electronic communications on Feb. 26, “after the migration was underway,” Guglielmi said.

The Secret Service said it provided a substantial number of emails and chat messages that included conversations and details related to January 6 to the inspector general. He also said text messages from Capitol Police requesting assistance on Jan. 6 have been preserved and turned over to the inspector general’s office.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service, is also awaiting a briefing from the inspector general on the letter, according to a person familiar with the committee’s discussions who was not authorized. to inform. discuss them publicly.

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Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the committee’s top Republican, said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned” about the inspector general’s recent letter and that it was “essential that the Department be transparent with its inspector general, Congress and the American public.”

READ MORE: Who is Stephen Ayres and why is he testifying at the January 6 hearings?

The Jan. 6 committee has renewed its interest in the Secret Service following dramatic testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who recalled what she heard about Trump’s actions on the day of the insurrection.

Hutchinson recalled being told about a confrontation between Trump and his Secret Service team when he angrily demanded to be taken to the Capitol, where his supporters would later breach the building. He also recalled hearing Trump tell security officials to remove the magnetometers from his Ellipse rally, even though some of his supporters were armed.

Some details of that account were quickly questioned by those agents. Robert Engel, the agent who was driving the presidential van, and Trump’s security officer, Tony Ornato, are willing to testify under oath that no agents were assaulted and that Trump never lunged for the wheel, a person familiar with the matter told the Associated Press. the case. The person did not discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

With the evidence still emerging, the Jan. 6 committee scheduled its next hearing for Thursday in prime time. The eighth in a series of hearings that began in early June will look further into the more than three-hour period in which Trump failed to act as a crowd of supporters stormed the Capitol.

It will be the first prime-time hearing since June 9, the first on the committee’s findings. That earlier hearing was watched by 20 million people.

Associated Press writer Gary Fields contributed to this report.

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