Exclusive: DHS Inspector General Was Aware Of Missing Secret Service Texts Months Earlier Than Expected

Earlier this month, Secret Service officials told congressional committees that DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, the department’s independent watchdog, was aware the texts were scrubbed in December 2021. But sources told CNN the Secret Service informed Cuffari’s office of the missing text messages in May 2021, seven months earlier.

The source added that key Secret Service personnel only realized the data was permanently lost after the data migration was completed and mistakenly believed the data had been backed up. In July 2021, inspector general investigators told DHS they were no longer looking for Secret Service text messages, according to two sources. Cuffari’s office then relaunched its investigation in December 2021.

The Washington Post reported for the first time the missing texts of Wolf and Cuccinelli, who were lost during a “reset” of their government phones when they left their jobs in January 2021 in preparation for the new Biden administration, according to the Post.
The missing messages exploded into public view earlier this month when Cuffari sent a letter to congressional committees saying the Secret Service texts had been expunged, kicking off the frantic chain of events that has now sparked a criminal investigation and pointed to congressional demands for answers.
Cuffari’s letter came after Cassidy Hutchinson, Trump’s White House aide testified before the committee on January 6 about an angry confrontation between former President Donald Trump and his Secret Service detail on January 6, 2021.

Both the committee and Cuffari are interested in the texts because they could shed light on the Secret Service’s response to January 6.

Conflicting requests for information

Amid the scrutiny, the Secret Service has scaled back cooperation with the Jan. 6 committee regarding the missing texts, two sources told CNN. Secret Service attorneys, along with DHS attorneys, struggle to determine how to respond and prioritize three conflicting requests for information about missing documents from the House Select Committee, the National Archives, and the DHS Inspector General. .

The Service advised the committee last week by telephone of the need to suspend cooperation ahead of the July 21 prime-time hearing, one of the sources said. The committee had issued a July 15 subpoena to the Service for text messages and other records surrounding January 6.

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On July 20, Cuffari’s office, which operates independently of DHS, told the Service to stop investigating the missing documents, saying it could interfere with the inspector general’s own investigation, which it says was an “ongoing criminal investigation”.

In addition to the committee’s January 6 subpoena, the National Archives has separately requested that the Secret Service turn over relevant documents and explain what might have happened to any deleted text messages.

Sources familiar with the situation said they were unsure how long it would take Secret Service lawyers to determine whether to share files with the committee – and whether it would be resolved within days or stretched out over weeks.

A source told CNN the Secret Service continued to provide records of old requests to the committee, but acknowledged that the agency had halted all new investigative work to find the contents of the lost text messages.

In a statement to CNN, a Secret Service spokesperson said the agency “will continue our steadfast cooperation with the select committee and other investigations.”

Representatives Zoe Lofgren of California and Elaine Luria of Virginia, who serve on the Jan. 6 committee, both said publicly that the Secret Service turned over documents this week. And the committee’s chairman, Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, said Thursday that the panel received “several hundred thousand” Secret Service exhibits two days ago. Thompson said the panel was still reviewing the material and did not know if it contained any new text messages.

When Cuffari met with the committee two weeks ago, Thompson said, he did not tell the committee that the potential deletion of the Secret Service text messages of January 5 and 6, 2021, was the subject of a criminal investigation.

Thompson said he’s still waiting to see how the criminal investigation will affect any information the committee may receive, but he doesn’t think the criminal investigation affects the committee’s investigation at this point.

“My understanding of the process is that if you’re involved in a criminal case, certain information you’re not able to share,” Thompson said. “As to where the breaks fit in with the criminal investigation, I guess we’ll have to see at some point.”

Neither DHS nor the DHS Inspector General’s Office responded to a request for comment.

Congress seeks recusal

The potential standoff between the Secret Service and the Jan. 6 committee comes after Thompson asked Cuffari to recuse himself from the investigation into the possible deletion of text messages.

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Thompson and House Oversight Chairman Carolyn Maloney sent a letter to Cuffari on Tuesday saying that his failure to notify Congress that the Secret Service was not providing records “casts serious doubts on his independence and ability to effectively conduct such an important investigation”.

Asked Thursday whether Cuffari was misleading the committee, Thompson said, “It appears the IG is potentially at fault in the conduct of its investigation.”

In a sign of the breakdown in communication between congressional Democrats and Cuffari, the House Homeland Security Committee, which Thompson also chairs, was never told by the inspector general that it was conducting a criminal investigation into Secret Service text messages, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The missing messages exploded into public view this month when the inspector general revealed the problem in a letter to Congress. The letter came after Cassidy Hutchinson, Trump’s White House aide, testified before the committee about an angry confrontation between Trump and his Secret Service on Jan. 6.

The timeline takes shape

The issue of potentially missing text messages dates back to January 2021, when the Secret Service began its previously planned phone data migration.

On January 16, 2021, prior to the data migration, the chairs of four House committees sent a letter to DHS and other relevant agencies asking them to retain records related to January 6. Although the Secret Service is part of DHS, it’s unclear if the agency received the guidelines, which didn’t specifically mention them.

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A source close to the investigation told CNN the Secret Service spent about eight hours last week looking for the notice, but never found it.

Nine days after the letter was sent, the Secret Service reminded employees that a data migration would wipe employees’ phones. The notice to employees dated January 25, 2021 clearly stated that employees were responsible for safeguarding records.

The Secret Service began data migration two days later, on January 27.

A source told CNN that the Secret Service realized too late that the data had been permanently deleted. The agency attempted to recover the lost text messages from its mobile provider, but was unable to do so, the source said.

In June 2021, Cuffari requested recordings and texts from all 24 Secret Service employees involved in relevant actions on January 6. CNN previously reported that officials responsible for security details for Trump and Pence were among the 24 people.

But then, in July 2021, an assistant inspector general told the Department of Homeland Security that the bureau was no longer looking for Secret Service text messages, according to two sources.

Sources told CNN the Secret Service believes the issue is resolved at this point. But the inspector general reopened his investigation into the text messages in December 2021, a source said.

Skepticism is rising

As Democratic committee chairs questioned whether Cuffari, who was nominated by Trump in 2019, could lead the Secret Service investigation, House lawmakers on the select committee also raised suspicions about how the Service secrets could have allowed messages to be deleted after January. 6 – noting that several congressional committees had requested agency records before a phone migration led to their eventual deletion.

“Count me a skeptic,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat on the panel, said on CBS’ “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Monday. Raskin said he didn’t believe “for a minute” that the Secret Service couldn’t find the texts the agents wrote on Jan. 6.

U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD)
CNN reported last week that the Secret Service had identified 10 people with metadata showing that text messages had been sent or received around January 6, and that the agency was trying to determine whether the content contained relevant information that should have been preserved.

The inspector general’s letter last week notifying the Secret Service of the potential criminal investigation halted those efforts.

The Secret Service suggested in its statement acknowledging receipt of the letter that it may not be able to comply with both the Inspector General’s directive and the committee’s subpoena. The agency said it would “conduct a thorough legal review to ensure that we cooperate fully with all surveillance efforts and that they do not conflict with each other.”

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