Documents obtained by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight reveal that Congress was nearly informed in June that Secret Service text messages relevant to its Jan. 6 investigation had disappeared, weeks before it ultimately found out.
The Secret Service has been harshly criticized by career officials at the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, who included a section about the missing texts in a required report to the Hill. However, the original language was removed from the published version of the document.
It wasn’t until July that the DHS inspector general’s office informed lawmakers about the missing text messages from the Secret Service.
An additional document obtained by the nonprofit and shared with the media reveals that lawyers in the inspector general’s office approved the draft language criticizing the Secret Service. The inspector general’s office’s chief of staff, Joseph Cuffari, was also given access to the draft language.
During “this reporting period,” which runs from October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, the watchdog office encountered significant resistance when attempting to obtain Secret Service texts, which was detailed in language that was ultimately cut from the report to Congress. For the duration of the draft, “Secret Service has resisted OIG’s oversight activities and continued to significantly delay OIG’s access to records, impeding the progress of OIG’s January 6, 2021 review,” the text reads.
As the draft continued, it stated that the Secret Service interviewees had “resisted OIG’s oversight activities, for which justification has not been provided” by not providing documents directly to the inspector general’s office.
The draft text suggests that the Secret Service provided the DHS watchdog with redacted documents without explaining who made the redactions or why. Finally, after overcoming obstacles that “regularly resulted in avoidable delay,” the Inspector General’s Office received the requested documents in full and without redactions.
Congress would have been informed of the missing texts if the draft language had been used.
The draft states, “Secret Service claimed inability to extract text message content due to an April 2021 mobile phone system migration, which wiped all data.” This was more than two months after the OIG had previously requested certain Secret Service employees’ text messages again.
According to the proposed revision, “Secret Service caused significant delay by not clearly communicating this highly relevant information at the outset of its exchanges with OIG during this reporting period.” And the Secret Service hasn’t said why it didn’t back up the documents before the move.
In addition to differing from the final text sent to Congress, the draft language made it clear that the Secret Service’s resistance to oversight was ongoing.
It concluded, “As described above, the Secret Service has resisted OIG’s oversight activities during this reporting period and delayed the results of its review of the events of January 6, 2021.”
In the end, only two sentences addressed the issue in the document sent to Capitol Hill.
According to the report sent to Congress, “we included information about Secret Service’s significant delay of OIG’s access to Secret Service records, impeding the progress of our January 6, 2021 review” during the previous reporting period. With the Secret Service, we have been talking about this issue for some time now.
Inspector General’s Office at DHS Did not Respond to Our Request for Comment.
Two people with knowledge of the materials told POGO that aides in Congress also have access to the same files.
Members of the House select committee looking into the attack are understandably outraged by the Secret Service’s decision to delete some text messages sent by agents on January 6, 2021 as part of what the agency called a data migration.
Because the Secret Service and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, are so concerned with cyber security, the public’s ire has been especially high.
Anger has also been expressed over the length of time that passed between the time the DHS inspector general discovered the missing messages and when he informed Congress. In an email to staff last week, which POLITICO reviewed, Cuffari responded to the criticism, calling it a “onslaught of meritless criticism.”
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