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15 Jul, 2022 17:16

US Secret Service denies Capitol riot accusations

The agency has been under investigation over the January 6 events in Washington
US Secret Service denies Capitol riot accusations

The US Secret Service has denied deliberately deleting text messages from the day of the January 6 Capitol riot and the previous day, insisting on Thursday it has been working together with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General in its ongoing probe into the day’s events.

The Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the OIG in every respect – whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts,” agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said, claiming the Secret Service had begun resetting its mobile phones as part of a “device-replacement program” long before any texts regarding January 6 were requested. 

While the Secret Service’s decision to erase the texts from January 5 and 6, 2021 was supposedly part of a “pre-planned, three-month system migration,” Inspector General Joseph Cuffari noted in a letter to the House Committee on Homeland Security that the messages had been erased after the OIG had already requested copies.

However, Guglielmi pointed out that the OIG did not request copies of the text messages until February 26, long after the “migration” had begun. Even so, the Secret Service claimed none of the texts sought by the OIG had been “lost in the migration” and blamed Department of Homeland Security lawyers for not granting “appropriate and timely access to materials.

Two sources familiar with the matter told the Washington Post that the Secret Service had in fact begun a “long preplanned, agency wide replacement of staff telephones to improve communication across the agency” in January 2021, and confirmed that the OIG had not asked for records related to January 6 until the following month, by which time as many as a third of the agency personnel had received new phones.

However, the Secret Service insisted it had provided a “substantial” number of emails and chat messages related to January 6, including texts from Capitol Police requesting assistance on that day.

While the Secret Service is required under its own policies to back up communications when it upgrades to new electronic devices, agents reportedly frequently fail to fulfill these requirements. 

Nor is the disappearance of critical records in the midst of a high-profile investigation a new phenomenon for the agency. According to the Post, the Secret Service memory-holed boxes of material indicating it had plenty of advance warning that organized groups were planning to kill President John F. Kennedy using rifles from tall buildings. When the records were requested, the agency claimed they had been destroyed in a routine culling of old archives.

The OIG itself has been under investigation since January by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency for allegations of misconduct, the details of which have not been made public.

Thousands of Trump supporters and election integrity advocates descended on Washington DC on January 6, 2021, to protest what they believed was a stolen election after Democrat Joe Biden claimed to have received the largest number of votes in US history. President Trump spoke to the crowd outside the White House before they marched on toward the Capitol. A group of protesters was able to enter the building while Congress was in session and the resulting chaos left four dead, including Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by Capitol police.

The Select Committee on the January 6th Insurrection began holding hearings last July. Its leading lawmakers attempted to portray the events of the day as “an attack on American democracy” orchestrated by then-President Trump and his allies. Republicans sympathetic to Trump have pushed back against that narrative, arguing the riot was merely a peaceful demonstration that got out of control, possibly due to infiltration by the president’s enemies.