Report: Secret Service was twice told to preserve records before Jan. 6 texts were deleted

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Actually, they were technically told more than twice, as you’ll see.

So, which of them are getting fired for ignoring orders?

Better yet, which of them are going to prison? Kevin Williamson produced a long bipartisan list today of federal and state officials over the last few years who avoided having to provide documents related to an investigation by “accidentally” deleting the records. “We need to put some people in prison and accidentally delete the key,” he concludes.


If there’s no penalty for obstructing justice, justice will continue to be obstructed. The only thing that cracks a culture of impunity is consequences.

Yesterday news broke that the Secret Service is preparing to inform the January 6 committee that they can’t produce agents’ texts from January 5 and 6, 2021, because some of those texts weren’t backed up to the agency’s server before personnel transitioned to new smartphones. A Service spokesman says he isn’t aware of any pertinent texts from those dates that were lost, but sources told WaPo that “many agents” neglected to upload the contents of their phones to the server. Something must be missing. The agency claims that it’s doing its best to recover the data but it expects that it’s been lost forever.

The burning question, obviously, is whether that can plausibly be explained as incompetence or if it’s more plausibly part of a deliberate cover-up.

The fact that agents were warned — repeatedly, and not just by their own superiors — to back up their phones before the transition and ignored that instruction points to a cover-up. New from CNN:

Congress informed the Secret Service it needed to preserve and produce documents related to January 6 on January 16, 2021, and again on January 25, 2021, for four different committees who were investigating what happened, according to the source. The Secret Service migration did not start until the January 27, 2021.

“Nobody along the way stopped and thought, well, maybe we shouldn’t do the migration of data and of the devices until we are able to fulfill these four requests from Congress,” said Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, a committee member, in an interview on MSNBC. “The process as explained to us was simply to leave it to the agent to determine whether or not there was anything on their phones worth saving that was necessary to save for federal records.”…

Secret Service employees were told in December 2020 and again in January 2021 that if they were going to back up their phones, they’d need to do it manually, a source familiar told CNN. The source said employees were given instructions on how to do the manual backup.


So they were told twice, and not just as part of a spammy “FYI” email from Secret Service management that might understandably have gotten lost in the shuffle. They were informed by Congress itself to preserve records — and not just for one committee that was interested but for four that were. Strictly speaking, that’s eight distinct production requests.

Note the timeline as well. Trump was impeached for the insurrection on January 13. Three days later the agency got its first notice to preserve records, knowing that an impeachment trial would soon take place. The Secret Service had every reason to believe the Senate might wants to see communications between its agents from January 5 and 6 as an insight into Trump’s culpability. (As it turned out, the Senate trial was embarrassingly perfunctory and considered hardly any evidence.) Even so, “many agents” declined to back up their phones before the transition on January 27. The impeachment trial didn’t begin until February 9.

Which means the closest thing to an “Occam’s Razor” explanation at the moment is that some agents intentionally declined to back up their phones in order to deprive Congress of information that might have incriminated Trump or themselves.

One other point. Do we really believe that the Secret Service can’t recover these texts? A tech reporter at The Intercept notes that the Service is supposed to be proficient at data retrieval:


The National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI) is a partnership between the Secret Service, DHS, and the state of Alabama to “train state and local law enforcement, judges and prosecutors in digital evidence, network intrusion, and computer/mobile device forensic issues.” The NCFI website proclaims that “In our digital world, law enforcement must be trained and prepared to solve all types of criminal cases from a multitude of electronic or digital devices. The NCFI addresses emerging technologies and related crimes by providing basic to some of the most advanced cyber forensics education and training available to law enforcement throughout the nation.”

All that, and the agency can’t recover texts from wiped phones?

Congress is being jerked around here and should demand that the phones be turned over to its own forensic investigators. And they should do it quickly, as there’s zero chance that the new House GOP majority next year will pursue this inquiry even though it has strong institutional reasons to do so. Republicans *do* want to continue the January 6 investigation — by investigating the committee itself, not the attempt to overturn the 2020 election. “Republicans have already asked the January 6 panel to preserve a broad range of documents in its possession — a signal they’re preparing to force those records to be turned over should they wield powerful committee gavels next year,” CNN reports. Should committee members “forget” to back up their own phones and then say “oopsie” when the GOP asks for their texts next year?


I’ll leave you with this piece from Politico about how the January 6 committee was preparing to wind down this summer but now seems intent on continuing on into the lame-duck session, such is the amount of new leads to be investigated. I hope they squeeze in a hearing on the case of the missing texts before they’re done. Maybe there’s a Cassidy Hutchinson inside the Secret Service willing to say what she knows.

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