Tony Ornato, Robert Engel Lawyer Up as Secret Service Scrutiny Intensifies

Two members of the Secret Service who have become the focus of questions in connection with the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot have reportedly retained legal representation to speak with the House select committee investigating the events of that day.

Committee member Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said on Thursday that Tony Ornato, who served as former President Donald Trump's deputy chief of staff and Robert Engel, who was Trump's lead Secret Service agent, had retained counsel and they have not yet testified to the House Select Committee under oath. Ornato is now the assistant director of the Secret Service Office of Training.

Lofgren told CNN's Annie Grayer that the driver of Trump's car on January 6 has also retained private counsel.

Ornato and Engel have been at the center of controversy after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the committee under oath that Ornato had told her Trump had tried to grab the steering wheel of the vehicle when agents refused to take him to the Capitol.

Hutchinson said Ornato had told her that while Engel was in the room but unnamed Secret Service sources later told media outlets that Ornato, Engel and the driver were willing to refute the story.

"As was said in the hearing, some of the officers who said they'd be coming and talking under oath, they have not come in and they've recently retained private counsel, which is unusual, but they have a right to do that. So we'll see," Lofgren said to Grayer on Thursday.

NBC News also reported Lofgren's remarks about the agents' decision to retain counsel.

Newsweek has reached out to Lofgren's office for comment.

The move comes as the House Select Committee held its second live prime-time hearing into the events surrounding the Capitol riot last year and Democratic Representative Elaine Luria said other witnesses had corroborated "an angry exchange in the presidential SUV."

The Secret Service is also under scrutiny over the apparent loss of agents' text messages from January 5 and 6 that were sought by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Joseph Cuffari.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) has launched a criminal investigation into the matter and instructed the agency to cease internal investigations into deleted texts.

The National Archives has also directed the Secret Service to investigate the potential "unauthorized deletion" of text messages and given the agency 30 days to deliver a report. The Secret Service has said it will cooperate with the National Archives.

There has been a particular focus on Ornato, who had been permitted to leave his role with the Secret Service temporarily in order to serve as deputy chief of staff.

Investigative journalist and author Carol Leonnig, who has written extensively about the Secret Service, considered Ornato's move into the role to be highly unusual for the agency.

Leonnig has also previously said that Ornato and Engel were "viewed as being aligned with Donald Trump."

"However, if they testify, under oath, 'this is what happened,' I think that is going to be important," she told MSNBC on June 28, referring to Hutchinson's claims about Trump and the steering wheel.

Secret Service Donald Trump
In this combination photo, Donald Trump (Top inset) walks back to the White House escorted by the Secret Service after appearing outside of St. John's Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2020, Trump, center left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stand on the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom. At background left is Special Agent in Charge Anthony Ornato and Trump board Air Force One before departing Harlingen, Texas on January 12, 2021. Ornato and Engel have reportedly retained legal counsel in connection with the January 6 investigation. Getty/AP