The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog last year suddenly scrapped plans to recover missing Secret Service text messages linked to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, sources have told The Washington Post.
The crucial texts were lost as the Secret Service switched to a new system and new devices.
After learning of the vanished texts, DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari’s office initially planned in February 2021 to contact all Homeland Security agencies, offering data specialists to help retrieve any relevant messages from their phones, according to government whistleblowers who provided reports to Congress, the Post reported.
But according to three sources who spoke with the Post, Cuffari’s office suddenly decided later that month not to collect phones or review any data.
A senior forensics analyst in Cuffari’s office had arranged to collect some phones, according to sources. But late on the night of Feb. 18, one of several deputies who “report to Cuffari’s team” wrote an email to investigators instructing them not to take the phones and not to seek any data from them, according to a copy of an internal record shared with the Post. (Read the full Washington Post story here.)
The House Jan. 6 committee is seeking the text messages to shed light on Donald Trump’s actions around the time of the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, later corroborated by others, revealed a confrontation between the president and his Secret Service detail. Hutchinson said Trump demanded to go to the Capitol as the assault was getting underway, but that Secret Service agents refused to take him.
Cuffari said in a letter earlier this month to the House and Senate homeland security committees that the Secret Service’s text messages from the time of the attack on the Capitol had been “erased.” He failed to mention that his office had learned of that fact months ago.
He also failed to mention missing texts from two top Trump appointees at Homeland Security who were running the department during the then-president’s last days in office.
Phones held by Chad Wolf, former acting DHS secretary, and Ken Cuccinelli, an acting deputy secretary, were reportedly “reset” when they left the government in January 2021, and the texts were erased.
Cuffari’s office declined to comment to the Post on its story Friday.
“To preserve the integrity of our work and consistent with U.S. Attorney General guidelines, DHS OIG does not confirm the existence of or otherwise comment about ongoing reviews or criminal investigations — nor do we discuss our communications with Congress,” Cuffari’s office said in a statement.
Cuffari, a former adviser to Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, has been inspector general since July 2019, after he was nominated by Trump.