Secret Service Slammed Over Report of Deleted Jan. 6 Text Messages

The Secret Service is facing ridicule and skepticism online for blaming a "device-replacement program" for text messages deleted shortly before the insurrection of January 6, 2021.

The Secret Service told a government watchdog it was unable to hand over potentially revealing records for technical reasons, according to a report first published Thursday by The Intercept. Criticism of the agency, which rejected claims it's been underhanded, comes as recent hearings by the House January 6 committee have suggested it may have played a role in former President Donald Trump's alleged attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Joseph Cuffari, inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), wrote in a letter to congressional committees that the Secret Service deleted text messages on January 5 and 6, 2021, according to The Intercept.

Donald Trump with Secret Service Agent
The Secret Service is facing criticism for deleting text messages sought by a government watchdog. Above, a Secret Service agent stands guard as former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Prescott Regional Airport in Prescott, Arizona, on October 19, 2020. MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

The July 13 letter states that the Secret Service deleted the messages after they were requested by the Office of Inspector General and chalked up their loss to the replacement of electronic devices, according to CNN.

Cuffari doesn't state in the letter why his office was seeking the text messages from the Secret Service but notes that federal law ensures timely access to records related to department programs overseen by the Office of Inspector General.

"Second, DHS personnel have repeatedly told OIG inspectors that they were not permitted to provide records directly to OIG and that such records had to first undergo review by DHS attorneys," Cuffari wrote in the letter. "This review led to weeks-long delays in OIG obtaining records and created confusion over whether all records had been produced."

"I guess that's why it's called Secret Service :/" reacted actor Brian Guest on Twitter.

"The @SecretService is LYING," commentator Roland Martin exclaimed on Twitter. "Device-replacement, my a**!"

"Up until now, I did not believe any of the dark suspicions about the Secret Service on Jan 6," journalist Helen Kennedy tweeted. "I see now that I was unforgivably naive."

The letter was sent to the leadership of both Senate and House committees overseeing the Department of Homeland Security, as well as Representative Bennie Thompson, the chair of the House January 6 committee.

The Secret Service told Newsweek in an email that it began resetting its mobile phones to factory settings in January 2021 as part of a planned three-month system migration "before any inspection was opened by OIG on this subject." The agency also said

the letter is the latest false claim from OIG that it hasn't cooperated with its investigation.

Additionally, the Secret Service said that OIG made its initial request for electronic communications on February 26. Data stored on some phones was lost during the process, according to the agency, and it confirmed with the OIG that none of the texts it was seeking had been lost.

"The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false," the agency said in the email. "In fact, the Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the OIG in every respect – whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts."

Jamie Raskin, a Democratic representative from Maryland and a member of the January 6 committee, pointed out in April that as a mob stormed the Capitol while Congress was certifying the 2020 presidential election, then-Vice President Mike Pence had refused to get into an armored limousine manned by Secret Service.

Raskin suggested that Pence insisted on staying at the Capitol to preside over the certification because he knew the Secret Service would whisk him away as part of a "coup" attempt.

Carol Leonnig, an investigative journalist and author, said recently that members of the Secret Service cheered on the January 6 Capitol insurrection from their social media accounts.

Newsweek reached out to the OIG for the Department of Homeland Security for comment.

Update 07/14/22, 10:20 p.m. ET: This article was updated with additional information and background.