A raft of Secret Service text messages sent on January 5 and January 6, 2021, have been deleted, according to a letter from the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security.
In the letter, which the Intercept reported was originally sent to the House and Senate Homeland Security Committee and then given to the January 6 Committee, investigators claim the messages were deleted soon after officials asked for them, lending the episode an air of nefariousness.
But the Secret Service claimed that the committee had not asked it to retain those texts until February and that an apparently unstoppable “system migration” was already underway by then.
“The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false,” the agency said in a statement. “The Secret Service began to reset its mobile phones to factory settings as part of a pre-planned, three-month system migration.”
It seemed for several days that it was possible for the agency to recover the texts. After the committee subpoenaed the Secret Service, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren said that she expected the messages to be delivered by Tuesday, July 19, at which point lawmakers would “go through minute by minute what happened.” But on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the texts have been permanently purged. As a result, the National Archives has
requested more information from the Secret Service into the “potential unauthorized deletion” of the texts; they expect to hear within 30 days about what was deleted and how the loss occurred.
The role of the Secret Service in the events of January 6 has come to the fore in recent testimony before the January 6 Committee. Star witness Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Tony Ornato, then a deputy White House chief of staff and previously the head of former president Trump’s security detail, told her that Trump was so upset that he couldn’t go to the Capitol on January 6 that he attempted to grab the steering wheel of a Secret Service vehicle. After Hutchinson’s testimony, anonymous sources disputed that Ornato had ever related such a story, but his status as a Trump loyalist raised skepticism about his credibility.
The committee has also detailed how Secret Service agents wanted to whisk former vice-president Mike Pence away from the violence at the Capitol on January 6, which would have prevented him from certifying the presidential vote. Pence refused to go.
Texts from before and after these incidents could have added context to them and perhaps shed more light on the validity of Hutchinson’s testimony. But for one reason or another, they’re lost to the sands of time.