The U.S. Secret Service deleted text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, shortly after they were requested by oversight officials investigating the agency's response to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, according to the agency watchdog.
The Department of Homeland Security inspector general, which has oversight of the Secret Service, sent a letter to the House of Representatives and Senate Homeland Security committees investigating the January 6 riot by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The letter, dated July 13, said the DHS had notified the inspector general that the Secret Service had erased "many" messages because of a device-replacement program, after the watchdog had asked the agency for records related to its electronic communications on those dates.
A Secret Service spokesman said the watchdog's claims were "categorically false." The chief of communications for the Secret Service, Anthony Guglielmi, followed up by taking the rare step of releasing a statement regarding the accusations.
“The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false. In fact, the Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) in every respect – whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts,” Guglielmi says in the statement.
It was not clear what had prompted the letter to be sent, how many messages were believed deleted, and whom those messages were sent from or sent to.
After the letter was published on Thursday, Representative Bennie Thompson, who chairs both the congressional panel probing the Capitol attack and the House Homeland Security Committee, told Axios the alleged deletion was "concerning."
"If there's a way we can reconstruct the texts or what have you, we will," Thompson told the news website.
The letter was reported earlier by The Intercept and CNN.
The January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol followed weeks of false claims by Trump that he won the 2020 election. On Tuesday, lawmakers on the House panel probing the attack accused Trump of inciting the violence in a last-ditch bid to remain in power after losing the election.
"First, the Department notified us that many U.S. Secret Service text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, were erased as part of a device-replacement program," the letter from DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari stated.
"The USSS erased those text messages after OIG (Office of Inspector General_ requested records of electronic communications from the USSS, as part of our evaluation of events at the Capitol on January 6," the letter said.