On January 6, a panel subpoenas the Secret Service for the erased texts

By FARNOUSH AMIRI and MARY CLARE JALONICK
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol subpoenaed the Secret Service Friday night for text message agents who were allegedly removed around Jan. 6, 2021, as the panel investigates the actions of Donald Trump at the time of the deadly siege.

Committee chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement that the committee understands the posts have been “erased.” Thompson outlined an aggressive schedule for producing the documents by Tuesday.

“The USSS erased text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, as part of a ‘device replacement program,'” Thompson said Friday evening.

He said the panel is “looking for relevant text messages, as well as all after-action reports that have been released across all divisions of the USSS regarding or in any way related to the events of January 6, 2021.”

The Secret Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The subpoenas come hours after the nine-member panel received a closed briefing from the Department of Homeland Security watchdog, which oversees the Secret Service. The watchdog briefed lawmakers on its finding that the Secret Service removed texts around January 6, according to two people familiar with the matter.

For the Jan. 6 panel, the discovery of the watchdog raised the startling prospect of lost evidence that could shed more light on Trump’s actions during the insurgency, particularly after earlier testimony about the president’s confrontation with security while he was trying to reach supporters at the Capitol.

It was a rare action for the panel to issue a subpoena to an executive branch department. The committee’s letter was addressed to USSS director James Murray, who is due to retire at the end of the month.

While lawmakers were tight-lipped about what they heard, the closed-door briefing with Inspector General Joseph Cuffari came two days after his office sent a letter to leaders of the Homeland Security Committees of the House and Senate indicating that Secret Service agents erased the messages. between January 5 and January 6, 2021 “as part of a device replacement program”. The removal came after the Oversight Office requested records from officers as part of its investigation into the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack, the letter said.

The committee originally requested the electronic records in mid-January and made a formal request in March for all communications received or sent by DHS employees between January 5 and January 7, 2021.

Thompson, the Democratic chair of the Jan. 6 House panel, told The Associated Press on Friday that the committee was taking a closer look at whether any tapes may have been lost. “There have been conflicting positions on the issue,” the Mississippi lawmaker said.

The private briefing was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss it.

The Secret Service insists that proper procedures were followed. Agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said: ‘The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false. In fact, the Secret Service cooperated fully with the OIG in all respects, be it interviews, documents, emails or text messages.

He said the Secret Service began factory resetting mobile devices in January 2021 “as part of a three-month pre-planned system migration”. In this process, some data was lost.

The inspector general first requested the electronic communications on Feb. 26, “after the migration was well underway,” Guglielmi said.

The Secret Service said it provided the Inspector General with a significant number of emails and chat messages containing conversations and details related to Jan. 6. He also said text messages from Capitol Police asking for help on Jan. 6 were on file and provided to the inspector general’s office.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security and Secret Service, is also awaiting a briefing from the inspector general on the letter, according to a person familiar with committee discussions. who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Republican Senator from Ohio, Rob Portman, said in a statement that he was “deeply concerned” by the recent letter from the OIG. Portman, the senior member of the Homeland Security Committee, added “It is critical that the Department be transparent with its Inspector General, Congress, and the American public.”

The Jan. 6 committee has shown renewed interest in the Secret Service following dramatic testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who recalled what she heard about Trump’s actions on the day. of the insurgency.

Hutchinson recalled being informed of a confrontation between Trump and his secret service when he angrily demanded to be taken to the Capitol, where his supporters would later breach the building. She also recalled hearing Trump tell security officials to remove the magnetometers for his rally on the Ellipse even though some of his supporters were armed.

Some details of this account were quickly disputed by these agents. Robert Engel, the agent who drove the presidential SUV, and Trump security official Tony Ornato are prepared to testify under oath that no agent was assaulted and that Trump never ran into the steering wheel, a person familiar with the matter told the AP. The person did not discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

As the evidence continues to emerge, the House Jan. 6 committee on Friday scheduled its next hearing for Thursday in prime time. The 8 p.m. hearing, which is the eighth in a series that began in early June, will examine in more detail the period of more than three hours when Trump failed to act as a crowd of supporters protested. storm the Capitol.

It will be the first prime-time hearing since June 9, the first on the commission’s findings. This previous audience was seen by 20 million people.

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Associated Press writer Gary Fields contributed.

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For full coverage of the January 6 hearings, visit https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege.