The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general reportedly obtained cellphones belonging to 24 Secret Service agents who took part within the response to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, in response to multiple news reports.
Agency leaders handed over the phones to Inspector General Joseph Cuffari’s office this summer. The news was first reported by NBC News.
Cuffari’s office had previously written to the Secret Service instructing them to stop looking into missing texts related to Jan. 6, as those were the topic of a criminal investigation.
The progress of that investigation stays unknown.
Secret Service personnel whose phones were confiscated include: James Murray, the agency’s former director; ex-deputy director Faron Paramore; Robert Engel, the lead agent on former President Donald Trump’s security team; Thomas Sullivan, ex-chief of the agency’s uniformed division; and Kimberly Cheatle, the present director of the Secret Service, in response to CBS News.
Engel was at the middle of a physical altercation recounted by Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to onetime White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Hutchinson told the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 that she had heard Trump had lunged at Engel after he refused to drive him to the Capitol the day of the riot.
Among the agents were reportedly annoyed over the phone confiscation, but had limited options given the phones belonged to the Secret Service, NBC News reported.
In recent weeks, Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the Jan. 6 committee’s chairman, indicated investigators have received additional Secret Service records.
“We’ve asked for any and all messages, so the tranches we’ve received have been significant,” Thompson said, in response to the Hill. “It’s a mixture of plenty of text messages, radio traffic, that type of thing. Just 1000’s of exhibits.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, a Jan. 6 committee member, told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that, while the panel has obtained “voluminous” numbers of records from the agency, those are “not an alternative choice to having the text messages that were apparently erased from those devices.”
“We’re still investigating how that got here about and why that got here about,” Schiff said. “And I hope and consider the Justice Department, on that issue, can be whether laws were broken within the destruction of that evidence.”
The Jan. 6 committee in July had subpoenaed the agency for missing records from Jan. 5 to Jan. 6, 2021.
A Secret Service official, Ronald L. Rowe Jr., told the panel the agency turned over only one text message in response to the inspector general’s June 2021 request for all text messages sent or received by 24 Secret Service agents between Dec. 7, 2020, and Jan. 8, 2021.
The subpoena got here after Cuffari wrote to lawmakers on the homeland security committee and the Jan. 6 committee on July 13, 2022, to tell them that texts exchanged by Secret Service agents from Jan. 5, 2021, to Jan. 6, 2021, had been “erased as a part of a tool substitute program,” a duplicate of the letter shared by CNN states.
The Jan. 6 committee postponed what’s prone to be its final hearing, which had been scheduled for Wednesday, as Hurricane Ian headed toward the Florida coast.