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Secret Service cannot recover texts; no new details for Jan. 6 committee

Chairman Bennie G. Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney listen as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing on July 12. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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The U.S. Secret Service has determined it has no new texts to provide Congress relevant to its Jan. 6 investigation, and that any other texts its agents exchanged around the time of the 2021 attack on the Capitol were purged, according to a senior official briefed on the matter.

Also, the National Archives on Tuesday sought more information on “the potential unauthorized deletion” of agency text messages. The U.S. government’s chief record-keeper asked the Secret Service to report back to the Archives within 30 days about the deletion of any records, including describing what was purged and the circumstances of how the documentation was lost.

The law enforcement agency, whose agents have been embroiled in the Jan. 6 investigation because of their role shadowing and planning President Donald Trump’s movements that day, is expected to share this conclusion with the Jan. 6 committee in response to its Friday subpoena for texts and other records.

The agency, which made this determination after reviewing its communication databases over the past four days, will provide thousands of records, but nearly all of them have been shared previously with an agency watchdog and congressional committees, the senior official said. None is expected to shed new light on the key matters the committee is probing, including whether Trump attacked a Secret Service agent, an account a senior White House aide described to the Jan. 6 committee.

Many of its agents’ cellphone texts were permanently purged starting in mid-January 2021 and Secret Service officials said it was the result of an agencywide reset of staff telephones and replacement that it began planning months earlier. Secret Service agents, many of whom protect the president, vice president and other senior government leaders, were instructed to upload any old text messages involving government business to an internal agency drive before the reset, the senior official said, but many agents appear not to have done so.

The result is that potentially valuable evidence — the real-time communications and reactions of agents who interacted directly with Trump or helped coordinate his plans before and during Jan. 6 — is unlikely to ever be recovered, two people familiar with the Secret Service communications system said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters without agency authorization.

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, incursion into the U.S. Capitol by Trump’s supporters issued a subpoena to the U.S. Secret Service on Friday requesting phone, after-action reports and other records relating to that time.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General upended the committee’s investigation last week claiming the Secret Service had erased texts from around Jan. 5 and 6 after his office had requested them as part of his own investigation.

DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, a Trump appointee, briefed members of the House select committee on Friday after sending a letter to lawmakers last week informing them that the text messages were missing. He also said DHS officials were delaying turning over information he requested, which Homeland Security officials have denied.

Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi has said that the agency did not maliciously delete text messages and that the Secret Service had lost some data because of a previously planned agencywide replacement of staff telephones. The replacement began a month before the Office of Inspector General made his request, he said last week.

Guglielmi acknowledged that some data on the phones had been lost in the changeover but emphasized that “none of the texts” the OIG was seeking were missing.

Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) signaled that the subpoena could resolve the discrepancies in the accounts between the OIG and the Secret Service, which falls under DHS.

The text messages could provide the committee with more details about the actions of Secret Service agents and of the former president around the time of the attack on the Capitol.

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified during a hearing last month that Trump wanted to lead the mob from the Ellipse to the Capitol, despite knowing they were armed, and said that she was told by an agent that Trump physically assailed the Secret Service agent who informed him he could not go to the Capitol. She did not witness that alleged episode.

The Secret Service’s text messages have become a new focal point of Congress’s investigation of Jan. 6, as they could provide insight into the agency’s actions on the day of the insurrection and possibly those of Trump. A former White House aide last month told the House select committee investigating the assault on the Capitol that Trump was alerted by the Secret Service on the morning of Jan. 6 that his supporters were armed but insisted they be allowed to enter his rally on the Ellipse with their weapons.

Trump told multiple White House aides that he wanted to lead the crowd to the Capitol and indicated his supporters were right to chant about hanging Vice President Mike Pence, all pieces of evidence that help describe his state of mind and what he wanted to happen at the Capitol that day.

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