The Secret Service on Tuesday failed to provide Congress with any new agency text messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021, informing the House committee investigating last year’s Capitol attack that the agency would continue digging to determine if any could be recovered.
The news was a blow to the Jan. 6 investigators, who had subpoenaed the Secret Service last week for texts they were hoping could provide new details about the activities of former President Trump on the day a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol. They gave the agency a Tuesday morning deadline to comply.
Goal Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) said the trove of new communications delivered by the agency excluded the texts the panel was seeking from Jan. 6 and the day before. Those messages were the focus of intense interest by the committee after investigators were notified by a government watchdog last week that the texts were “erased” during a device replacement program.
“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 in an interview with MSNBC.
“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,” she continued. “And as a result, today they did not receive any texts from their agents when they made that transition that was flagged for preservation.”
Lawmakers have been optimistic about possibly recovering texts after meeting Friday with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, who had informed the committee of the “erased” texts several days earlier — a charge the Secret Service has denied.
“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,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday.
But investigators have also been indignant that the Secret Service, which was in charge of Trump’s security on Jan. 6, might have deleted material evidence surrounding the rampage that day, which marked the first time the Capitol had been sacked in more than two centuries.
“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 uprising,” Raskin said.
The Secret Service had forecast that it would have little additional information to offer, with agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi telling The Hill on Monday that there were no “hidden messages” the agency was concealing or anything else officials were “holding out” from the panel.
He said the bulk of what would be turned over to the committee were documents similar to the 800,000 they had already provided. But he said the agency would also detail its policy around refraining from using text messages to communicate due to security concerns.
“It’s hard for people to understand, but we do not communicate via text message. It is in policy that you do not conduct business via text message,” he said.
The Secret Service has continually denied that it maliciously deleted any text messages.
“There’s no reason for us to say the texts were lost. 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?” Guglielmi told The Hill.
Still, that answer was unsatisfying to those leading the investigation, who have accused Trump of not only instigating the march on the Capitol but also wanting to lead it. They were hoping the Secret Service messages might be able to shed further light on his intentions to join the thousands of supporters who sought to block Congress from certifying his election defeat.
“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 on Tuesday upped the ante, demanding the Secret Service conduct its own review of why it is unable to account for the messages.
“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,” Laurence Brewer, chief records officer for the US government, wrote 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 continued.