(CNN) — The US Secret Service (USSS) deleted the text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, shortly after they were requested by oversight officials investigating the agency’s response to the US Capitol riots, according to a letter provided to the House select committee investigating the insurrection and obtained by CNN.
The letterwhich was originally sent to the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General, says the messages were deleted from the system as part of a device replacement program after the watchdog asked the agency for records related to his electronic communications.
“First, the Department notified us that many United States Secret Service text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, were deleted as part of a device replacement program. The USSS deleted those text messages after The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will request electronic communications records from the USSS as part of our review of the events on Capitol Hill on January 6,” the letter from DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari said.
“Second, DHS staff have repeatedly told OIG inspectors that they were not allowed to provide records directly to the OIG and that those records had to go through DHS attorney review first,” Cuffari added. “This review led to weeks-long delays in obtaining records from the OIG and created confusion as to whether all records had been delivered.”
The Intercept was the first to report the letter from the DHS Inspector General.
The US Secret Service and the Homeland Security inspector general did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security and Jan. 6 committees, acknowledged in a statement Thursday night that the panel had received the letter.
“The Homeland Security Commission received a letter from the DHS Inspector General regarding the Secret Service deleting of text messages that the Office of the Inspector General requested as part of its investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill,” Thompson said. “The commission will be informed of this extraordinarily concerning destruction of records and will respond accordingly.”
Although the letter does not say whether the DHS watchdog believes these text messages were deleted intentionally or for nefarious reasons, the incident adds to growing questions about the Secret Service’s response to the US Capitol attack.
The Secret Service has been in the crosshairs since witnesses described how former President Donald Trump angrily demanded his escorts take him to Capitol Hill after his speech on the White House Ellipse, shortly before rioters stormed the Capitol. building.
A former adviser to then Vice President Mike Pence also referred to the Secret Service in his testimony. Greg Jacob, a former adviser to Pence, told the panel that Pence refused to get into the vice presidential vehicle after being evacuated from Capitol Hill, out of concern that the driver had taken him to safety and prevented him from certifying the election results. .
More than a year after the riot, the Homeland Security inspector general’s review of the Secret Service and its performance on January 6 is ongoing.
— Whitney Wild and Hannah Rabinowitz contributed to this report.