EXCLUSIVE: DHS Inspector General learned about missing Secret Service transcripts months earlier than previously known

Earlier this month, Secret Service officials told congressional committees that DHS Inspector General Joseph Kovari, an independent department watchdog, was aware that the text messages had been erased in December 2021. But sources tell CNN, the Secret Service notified Kovari’s office lost text messages in May 2021, seven months ago.

The source added that key Secret Service personnel only realized the data was permanently lost after the data migration was completed, and erroneously believed the data had been backed up. In July 2021, investigators general told the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General that they were no longer seeking Secret Service text messages, according to two sources. Al-Kaffari’s office then restarted the investigation in December 2021.

The Washington Post first reported on Wolf and Cuccinelli’s missing texts, which were lost in “resetting” their government phones when they left their jobs in January 2021 in preparation for the new Biden administration, according to the newspaper.
The missing messages exploded into public view earlier this month when al-Kaffari sent a letter to congressional committees saying Secret Service texts had been erased, unleashing a frantic slate of events that now sparked a criminal investigation and signaled Congressional demands for answers.
Kovari’s message came after Cassidy Hutchinson, a Trump aide in the White House, testified before the January 6 panel about an angry confrontation between former President Donald Trump and his Secret Service men on January 6, 2021.

The Commission and Kaffari are both interested in the texts because they could shed light on the Secret Service’s response to Jan. 6.

Conflicting Information Requests

Amid heightened scrutiny, the Secret Service has scaled back its cooperation with the January 6 commission related to the missing texts, two sources told CNN. Secret Service attorneys, along with DHS attorneys, are working to determine how to respond to and prioritize three conflicting requests for information about missing records from the House Select Committee, the National Archives, and the DHS Inspector General.

One of the sources said the service notified the commission last week by phone of the need to pause cooperation ahead of the commission’s preliminary hearing on July 21. The commission had issued a July 15 subpoena to the service regarding text messages and other records surrounding January 6.

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On July 20, al-Kaffari’s office, which operates independently of the Department of Homeland Security, asked the service to stop investigating the missing records, saying it could interfere with the Inspector General’s own investigation, which he wrote is an “ongoing criminal investigation.”

In addition to the January 6 commission’s subpoena, the National Archives, separately, demanded that the Secret Service turn over relevant records and explain what might happen to any deleted text messages.

Sources familiar with the situation said they are not sure how long it will take Secret Service lawyers to determine if they will share records with the commission — and whether this will be resolved in a few days or extend into weeks.

A source tells CNN that the Secret Service continues to provide records from old requests to the commission, but acknowledges that the agency has halted any new investigative work to find the content of the missing text messages.

In a statement to CNN, a Secret Service spokesperson said the agency “will continue our consistent cooperation with the briefing committee and other investigations.”

representatives. Zoe Lofgren of California and Elaine Luria of Virginia, who serve on the Jan. 6 commission, said the Secret Service handed over the documents publicly this week. The committee chair is a Democrat from Mississippi. On Thursday, Benny Thompson said the commission had received “hundreds of thousands” of exhibits from the Secret Service two days ago. Thompson said the committee is still reviewing the material and doesn’t know if it contains any new text messages.

Thompson said that when Kovari met with the committee two weeks ago, he did not tell the committee that the potential deletion of Secret Service text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021 was subject to a criminal investigation.

Thompson said he is still waiting to see how the criminal investigation affects the information the commission can receive, but he does not believe the criminal investigation is affecting the commission’s investigation at this point.

“My understanding from the process is that if you are involved in a criminal matter, that is certain information that you cannot share,” Thompson said. “As to where the breaks are in terms of the criminal investigation, I think we’ll just have to see at some point.”

Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security responded to a request for comment.

Congress calls to step down

The potential impasse between the Secret Service and the Jan. 6 commission comes after Thompson called on Kovari to disqualify himself from investigating the possible deletion of text messages.

Democratic chairs demand the inspector general reuse himself in the investigation of Secret Service texts

Thompson and House Oversight Chairman Carolyn Maloney wrote to Kovari on Tuesday that his failure to inform Congress that the Secret Service had failed to provide records “casts doubt on his independence and ability to effectively conduct such an important investigation.”

Asked on Thursday whether al-Kaffari was misleading the commission, Thompson said, “It appears that the inspector general may be at odds with conducting his investigation.”

In a sign of the disconnect between Congressional Democrats and Kovari, the inspector general did not inform the House Homeland Security Committee, which Thompson also chairs, that he was conducting a criminal investigation into the Secret Service’s text messages, according to a familiar source. with the matter.

The missing letters came into public view this month when the inspector general revealed the case in a letter to Congress. The message came after Cassidy Hutchinson, a Trump aide in the White House, testified before the committee about a furious confrontation with Trump and his Secret Service details on Jan. 6.

The timeline takes shape

The case of the possible missing text messages dates back to January 2021, when the Secret Service began relaying previously planned phone data.

On January 16, 2021, before the data migration took place, the chairs of the four House committees sent a letter to DHS and other relevant agencies requesting that they keep records regarding the January 6 date. An agency that received guidance, which it did not specifically refer to.

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A source familiar with the investigation told CNN that the Secret Service spent nearly eight hours last week looking for the notice, but never found it.

Nine days after the letter was sent, the Secret Service sent a reminder to employees that the data migration would wipe employees’ phones. The January 25, 2021 notice to employees made it clear that employees are responsible for record keeping.

The Secret Service began relaying the data two days later, on January 27.

A source told CNN that the Secret Service realized too late that the data had been permanently deleted. The source said the agency tried to retrieve the lost text messages from its mobile phone provider, but was unable to do so.

In June 2021, Kovari requested records and transcripts from 24 Secret Service employees involved in the January 6 related actions. CNN previously reported that the security details of Presidents Trump and Pence are among 24 individuals.

But then, in July 2021, the deputy inspector general told the Department of Homeland Security that the bureau was no longer seeking text messages from the Secret Service, according to two sources.

Sources told CNN that the Secret Service believed the case was over at that point. But one source said the inspector general reopened his investigation into the text messages in December 2021.

high doubts

While Democratic committee chairs questioned whether Kaffari, who was appointed by Trump in 2019, could lead the Secret Service’s investigation, House lawmakers on the select committee have raised doubts about how the Secret Service may have allowed messages to be deleted after January. 6 – Note that multiple congressional committees have requested agency records before phone relay leads to their potential deletion.

“Come back to me,” said the deputy. Jimmy Raskin, a Maryland Democrat on the committee, on CBS’ “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Monday. Raskin said he did not believe “for a minute” that the intelligence service could not find the texts sent by agents on January 6.

United States delegate.  Jimmy Raskin (MD)
CNN reported last week that the Secret Service had identified 10 individuals with metadata showing text messages sent or received around January 6, and the agency was trying to determine whether the content contained relevant information that should have been preserved.

The inspector general’s letter last week notifying the Secret Service of a potential criminal investigation halted those efforts.

In its statement acknowledging the letter, the Secret Service suggested that it may not be able to comply with the direction of the inspector general and the commission’s subpoena. The agency said it would conduct a “comprehensive legal review to ensure that we fully cooperate with all oversight efforts and do not conflict with each other.”

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