The Secret Service erased text messages that could help verify, or rebut, some of the most stunning testimony about President Donald Trump’s actions during the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.
Secret Service officials say the wiped messages were part of a prescheduled “reset” of their phones. But House lawmakers have cast doubt on that explanation for the missing messages, which cover critical moments leading up to and through the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“I smell a rat,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told a reporter Wednesday.
Members of the House select committee looking into the events of Jan. 6, as well as others, have been pushing the Secret Service to turn over texts and other records as part of their investigations into the attack.
Last week, news reports revealed that the Secret Service had deleted the requested messages, according to the government watchdog that oversees the Department of Homeland Security.
Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi called the reports “categorically false” at the time. The agency was engaged in a prescheduled reset of devices before receiving the request from the DHS inspector general to protect records, according to a Secret Service statement.
However, the text messages were requested before they were deleted. “Congress informed the Secret Service it needed to preserve and produce documents related to January 6 on January 16, 2021, and again on January 25, 2021, for four different committees who were investigating what happened, according to the source,” CNN reported Wednesday. “The Secret Service migration did not start until January 27, 2021.”
Immediately following the reports, the Jan. 6 committee, which includes Raskin, subpoenaed the Secret Service for the texts. Earlier this week, the agency turned over one text message to the panel, according to a committee aide who said lawmakers are still looking at ways to find the messages.
“We have concerns about a system migration that we have been told resulted in the erasure of Secret Service cell phone data,” the Jan. 6 committee said in a statement released Wednesday.
A committee staffer said Wednesday in a briefing with reporters that “members are still determining exactly how to get the information we’re seeking.”
The Secret Service got pulled into an offshoot of the sweeping Jan. 6 hearings late last month after former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson relayed a story from fellow aide Tony Ornato — who previously served in the Secret Service and is currently a high-ranking official in the organization — that Trump lunged at his security detail and attempted to force them to drive him to the Capitol to join the rioters.
Secret Service officials, speaking anonymously, denied that account. But Ornato and another agent, Bobby Engel, have not yet spoken publicly about the incident. A Washington, D.C., police officer who was part of Trump’s motorcade that day confirmed Hutchinson’s testimony in an interview with House investigators recently, according to a CNN report.
The stunning depiction of Trump thrusting at his own protectors caught the most attention, but House investigators have uncovered multiple other events about which questions remain.
In one particularly chilling scene recounted by former Vice President Mike Pence’s ex-counsel, Greg Jacob, agents wanted to drive Pence from a secure location beneath the Capitol to Joint Base Andrews during the Capitol assault.
The seemingly innocuous request, however, may have been enough for Trump to claim that the election result was never certified and that therefore the transfer of power to Joe Biden was not complete, based on Trump lawyer John Eastman’s legal reasoning.
“I know you, I trust you, but you’re not the one behind the wheel,” Pence told one of his agents with him at the time, according to Jacob.
Pence and his team have not explained exactly what he meant by that statement. But Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker reported in their book, “I Alone Can Fix It,” that Pence was wary of unchecked support for Trump among the rank and file of the Secret Service.
And Pence’s former national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, testified that he had to tell Ornato on Jan. 6 not to direct that the vice president be driven away from the Capitol.