To recap: The Secret Service was ordered to preserve all text messages sent by agents on the day before, and the day of the January 6 Capitol insurrection. Procuring these messages became all the more pressing when serious questions were raised about agents’ behavior toward former Vice President Mike Pence. To wit: Did those agents try to whisk him away from the building to thwart his certification of the election? Were there agents involved in the coup attempt? These texts may also serve to verify former White House Aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony that Donald Trump, when informed he could not join the rioting mob at the Capitol, flipped out and attacked members of his detail.
The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack dropped a subpoena on the Secret Service last week, and the agency promised an answer by yesterday. Yesterday came, and yesterday went, and when all was said and done, the Secret Service had only managed to locate one single text message. The rest, they claim, are permanently gone and completely unrecoverable.
“Many of its agents’ cellphone texts were permanently purged starting in mid-January 2021 and Secret Service officials said it was the result of an agencywide reset of staff telephones and replacement that it began planning months earlier,” reports The Washington Post. “Secret Service agents, many of whom protect the president, vice president and other senior government leaders, were instructed to upload any old text messages involving government business to an internal agency drive before the reset, the senior official said, but many agents appear not to have done so.”
This, to put it mildly, stinks to high heaven. In a bland and Trumpless world, this defiance of a document protective order and a congressional subpoena would be grounds for mass firings and other serious consequences. It has been widely reported that members of Trump’s Secret Service detail were as much a part of his partisan political operation as his own kids, making the disappearance of these texts from the day Trump allegedly attempted treason all the more disturbing.
The technical explanations being proffered by the Secret Service likewise fail the smell test. Arick Wierson, former deputy commissioner in New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, explains:
My role as a deputy commissioner put me in countless meetings every time there was a major software upgrade, platform transition, device migration or any other major change in the technology that city employees used. It included everyone from rank-and-file police officers to the mayor himself…. Without getting into the nerdy details of IT data management, suffice to say that no major technology device transfer could possibly happen without there being not one but several levels of backed-up data and redundancy.
And keep in mind, in the public sector, particularly because of FOIL and FOIA laws, IT professionals are not the only ones involved in major technology overhaul decisions. In the city of New York, when one agency is upgrading tech from one device to another, lawyers — representatives from each agency’s Office of General Counsel — help ensure that all applicable data is being safely preserved. A lot of people have eyes on any major technology overhaul, especially one where data is in the mix.
And this makes Tuesday’s news that the Secret Service has turned over thousands of documents to the January 6 committee, but has not yet recovered the missing texts, all the more alarming. If the deleted data was the result of some bizarro act of benign negligence, that data should have been easy to recoup by forensic IT specialists. The Secret Services insists it is still trying to find those missing messages.
Yeah, and if my uncle had wheels, he’d be a wagon. The questions do not stop there. Were the agents on-scene using private texting or other platforms to communicate? Is there a connection between these missing texts and the fact that Director James M. Murray is abruptly ending his 27-year Secret Service career to go work for Snapchat?
“Failure to preserve and produce these messages may be illegal,” NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted on Tuesday. “Prompt investigation is now essential. Vital for Americans to know immediately whether United States Secret Service has been dangerously compromised. With crucial evidence now reported to have been destroyed, the potential physical danger to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris from actions (or lapses) of U.S. Secret Service on January 6 (and the period around that date) must now be investigated immediately.”
Hopefully, at this point, some of these agents are getting nervous — that particular kind of nervous that comes with having done something that will likely come back to bite you, and soon.
I know a bit about this. It can be safely said that I did not cover myself in academic glory during my first semester at college. I was there for the party, not the studies, and I got my head kicked sideways. I happened to be home when my awful grades arrived in the mail, and in a spasm of ill-conceived panic, I gave them the ol’ pocket veto treatment, hoping my mother would somehow forget that my school measured achievement with an alphabetical system that got sent home twice a year like clockwork.
Of course, I was eventually busted, and I’m pretty sure I’m still grounded lo these 30 years later… but what I remember most about the whole shameful affair was the week I spent with a boulder in my stomach, like there was a bag of hot cats in my chest trying to get out. The grades lingered in a crumpled ball in that pocket; you are, they whispered, an asshole. The walls closed in. It was almost a relief when I got caught. No, strike that, it was a relief. I no longer had to pretend I hadn’t done such a thing — twice, if you count the grades themselves — and endeavored going forward to remember who I was supposed to be, instead of who I became in that moment of weakness and fear.
Remembering all this today, I am wondering how many Secret Service agents are walking around with their own bag of cats roiling their chests, clutching a sweaty cellphone in their pocket, wishing the proffered excuses for all those missing text messages didn’t sound like the hairball coughed up by Rose Mary Woods to explain the recording gap in the Nixon Watergate tapes. Maybe — hopefully — they’re wishing they hadn’t tried to erase history with the news media, a clutch of watchdogs and a congressional committee breathing down their necks.
Of course, maybe none of them are wishing any such thing, and are still clinging desperately to their ill-conceived loyalty to their then-leader. Regardless, it only gets hotter from here.
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