The National Archives and Records Administration is probing the U.S. Secret Service over texts exchanged around the January 6 attack on the Capitol that the agency says it has deleted, despite the fact that they could be key to uncovering details about how law enforcement officials reacted to the attack.
In a letter sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Secret Service, on Tuesday, National Archives Chief Records Officer Laurence Brewer says that National Archives officials are looking into the “potential unauthorized deletion” of the texts. Brewer asks the Secret Service to determine whether or not the text deletion was, in fact, illegal.
If that investigation finds that the texts were “improperly deleted,” the National Archives has requested that the Secret Service prepare a report about the deletion within a month, with information about the texts, why they were deleted and whether or not the agency has tried to recover or reconstruct them.
Government watchdogs say that it’s likely that the text purging was a violation of federal criminal laws. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a complaint to the Department of Justice on Monday asking the agency to investigate the matter. “A full and public airing of the facts is critical to hold those responsible accountable,” CREW wrote. “Full accountability may not be possible, however, when critical evidence is destroyed.”
Reporting recently found that the Secret Service had deleted texts sent on January 5 and 6, 2021, after DHS officials had asked to view them. Members of the January 6 committee say that access to those texts would elucidate important information for the committee and the public.
However, the Secret Service has determined that the agency has no new texts related to January 6 to provide Congress, a senior official told The Washington Post on Tuesday. While the agency is expected to provide records related to the attack that the committee has subpoenaed, the paper reports that all of them will be records that have already been previously provided to the committee.
Considering the Secret Service’s seeming reluctance to probe any further for the texts, it’s unclear if the request from the National Archives will turn up any new documents.
It’s also hard to speculate on what the deleted texts might have contained. The agency has said that they were deleted as part of a routine technology program, but the fact that they were deleted after the request from DHS has raised suspicions among former government officials that they may have contained information that, for one reason or another, the agency did not want to reveal to officials or make public.
The Secret Service allegedly played a crucial part in Donald Trump’s plan to overturn the 2020 election. According to an upcoming book by Washington Post reporters, Secret Service agents had directed then-Vice President Mike Pence to a fleet of armored cars and were going to whisk him off to a secure location where he couldn’t certify the election results.
“If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car,” Pence reportedly said, refusing to get in the car. Officials say this could have changed that day’s attempted coup into an actual coup where Trump seized the presidency despite the will of tens of millions of voters.
Recent testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson also revealed that Trump had allegedly “lunged” at a Secret Service agent after the former president was told that it was too dangerous to go to the Capitol as the attack was ongoing.
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