(The Hill) — The tug of war between Jan. 6 investigators and the Secret Service will hit a critical point on Tuesday when the panel examining the Capitol riot expects to receive a trove of agency text messages that could lend new insights into former President Donald Trump’s actions that day.
The transfer, if it materializes, follows several days of confusion and finger-pointing surrounding the elusive messages, which a government watchdog told the committee “were erased” by the Secret Service — only to have the agency deny the charge outright.
The accusation led the House select committee to subpoena the Secret Service for the texts late Friday night, just hours after the panel met with Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security.
Cuffari, a Trump appointee, had sent the committee a letter earlier in the week saying the agency had expunged text messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021, “as part of a device-replacement program.” The erasure came “after OIG [Office of Inspector General] requested records of electronic communications” from the agency, Cuffari wrote.
The Jan. 6 investigators have accused Trump of inciting the Capitol attack in an effort to cling to power after his election defeat, and they’re eager to learn if the “erased” messages might reveal new details about Trump’s actions and intentions surrounding the insurrection.
The focus on the Secret Service has gained new urgency since last month, when a former top West Wing aide testified about a confrontation between Trump and his security detail on Jan. 6, after the president was informed he would not be driven to the Capitol to join the protest there. The aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, delivered that explosive account secondhand, and some of the agents involved have since disputed it, albeit not directly.
Given the discrepancies, the select committee is aiming to cast a wide net when it comes to the Secret Service, which on Jan. 6 was protecting not only Trump but also his vice president, Mike Pence, who was a key target of the violent mob that stormed the Capitol.
Their subpoena gave the agency until Tuesday morning to deliver the disputed communications.
“There was a statement made by the spokesperson for the department saying that it wasn’t true, it wasn’t fair and that they, in fact, had pertinent texts,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said in a Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” referring to the agency’s rebuttal of Cuffari’s account. “And we go, ‘Fine, if you have them, we need them.’ ”
“And we expect to get them by this Tuesday. So we’ll see,” added Lofgren, a member of the House Jan. 6 committee.
On the heels of Friday’s summons, Tuesday’s deadline is the fastest turnaround the panel has demanded from one of its subpoena targets, a sign lawmakers have little patience for resolving the mystery over the messages as the public hearing phase of the investigation winds down.
Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said the agency will comply with the 10 a.m. Tuesday deadline but that much of what it has to turn over will replicate what it has already shared with the committee.
He denied the existence of any “hidden messages” the agency was concealing or anything else officials are “holding out” from the panel.
“We’re going to respond to all five sections of the subpoena in thorough detail,” Guglielmi told The Hill Monday, running through a list of what has been provided to investigators.
“We additionally provided almost 800,000 documents, emails, radio transmissions, planning records, operational plans, Microsoft Teams chat messages — we provided all that stuff. We are going to provide all of that. We’re going to answer every single response to the committee’s subpoena as best as we physically can.”
The Secret Service last week said the accusations from Cuffari were categorically false and described the loss of data as part of a “pre-planned, three-month system migration.”
“In that process, data resident on some phones was lost,” the agency said at the time.
Guglielmi said Secret Service agents were advised to upload data from their phones, but because the agency avoids text messages for security concerns, there were few to share.
“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.
“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?”
During Friday’s closed-door meeting, Cuffari maintained that messages were lost and expressed optimism there may be some way to reconstruct them using various forensic tools, according to The Guardian.
As lawmakers on the committee made the rounds on Sunday talk shows, many stressed that the Secret Service could be in violation of federal records laws if they were unable to preserve data, let alone at such a critical point in time.
“That’s what we have to get to the bottom of,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“There’s a requirement for federal agencies to maintain records,” she continued. “An agency that was such a key part of a critical event in our history — one would assume they have done everything possible to preserve those records, to analyze them, to determine what kind of things went right or went wrong that day.”
Lofgren said the committee simply needs “all the texts from the 5th and the 6th.”
“I was shocked to hear that they didn’t back up their data before they reset their iPhones. That’s crazy. I don’t know why that would be,” she said.
“But we need to get this information to get the full picture.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), another member of the committee, also expressed disbelief that the Secret Service would have erased any communications surrounding Jan. 6, blasting the agency for what he characterized as “conflicting” explanations.
“In the very least, it is quite crazy that the Secret Service would actually end up deleting anything related to one of the more infamous days in American history,” he said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “Particularly when it comes to the role of the Secret Service.”