The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reportedly launched a criminal investigation into missing Secret Service text messages sent on the day prior to and the day of the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
A letter from the DHS Inspector General sent Wednesday evening told the Secret Service that it should cease any internal investigations into the missing messages, according to NBC News.
“To ensure the integrity of our investigation, the USSS must not engage in any further investigative activities regarding the collection and preservation of the evidence referenced above,” Deputy Inspector General Gladys Ayala wrote in a Wednesday evening letter. “This includes immediately refraining from interviewing potential witnesses, collecting devices or taking any other action that would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.”
The Secret Service said in a statement that it is “in receipt of the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s letter. We have informed the January 6th Select Committee of the Inspector General’s request and will conduct a thorough legal review to ensure we are fully cooperative with all oversight efforts and that they do not conflict with each other,” according to NBC News.
Inspector General Joseph Cuffari informed the House January 6 committee earlier this month that messages the government investigator had sought from the Secret Service had been deleted. The inspector general’s office said the deletions took place after the watchdog had filed a request for them.
“The USSS erased those text messages after OIG requested records of electronic communications from the USSS, as part of our evaluation of events at the Capitol on January 6,” Cuffari told the committee in a letter, according to NBC News.
The Secret Service reportedly told the inspector general that the loss of messages on January 5 and 6 of 2021 took place “as part of a device-replacement program.”
“The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false,” Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said, according to NBC News. “In fact, the Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the OIG in every respect — whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts.”
The committee, run by almost entirely by Democrats, has sought the text messages because of the potential information they may contain about former President Donald Trump’s behavior before and during the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Secret Service officials were notified at least three times to preserve records on their cellphones. The first emailed notice came on Dec. 9, 2020, the next sometime in January 2021, and the third notice on February 4, 2021. The first two emails did not make any specific reference to the Capitol riot.
In December, the agency’s chief information and chief operating officers decided to switch agents’ devices to a new software-management platform. Agents were given instructions on how to preserve information and given authority over which messages would be preserved while everything else would be wiped. The process began on January 27, 2021, and finished several months later on April 1.
The deleted texts have raised questions from legal experts that the Secret Service may have violated the Federal Records Act, which mandates federal communications be preserved.