It’s the case of the missing messages.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General has formally launched a criminal investigation into the deletion of Secret Service texts potentially related to last year’s Capitol riot, according to NBC News.
The outlet, citing two sources familiar with the matter, said the watchdog’s findings could be referred to federal prosecutors for potential charges.
On Wednesday evening, DHS Deputy Inspector General Gladys Ayala instructed the Secret Service to pause all internal investigations regarding the texts, revealing that the OIG’s probe had become criminal in nature.
“To ensure the integrity of our investigation, the USSS must not engage in any further investigative activities regarding the collection and preservation of the evidence referenced above,” Ayala wrote to agency Director James Murray in a letter obtained by NBC News.
“This includes immediately refraining from interviewing potential witnesses, collecting devices or taking any other action that would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.
The Secret Service confirmed to NBC News that it had received the letter and “informed the January 6th Select Committee of the Inspector General’s request and will conduct a thorough legal review to ensure we are fully cooperative with all oversight efforts and that they do not conflict with each other.”
However, the agency also pointed out that the Inspector General’s request conflicts with a request from the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot — which called on the Secret Service to produce the missing messages — as well as a request for information from the National Archives.
So far, the Secret Service has only turned over one text exchange to the OIG after the watchdog asked for more than a month’s worth of records — dating from between Dec. 7, 2020 and Jan. 8, 2021 — from 24 personnel.
Concerns about the agency’s ability and willingness to retain texts related to last year’s Capitol riot stem from an initial report by the watchdog last week which claimed requested text messages exchanged around the time of the riot were deleted during a data migration.
The Secret Service initially claimed none of the text messages were lost during the upgrade period and noted that the initial request for communications was made in February 2021, a month after the migration began.
However, a CNN report claimed Congress first informed the agency that it needed to preserve and produce records related to the riot on Jan. 16, 2021, and again on Jan. 25, 2021 — two days before the data migration began.
It has not been made clear how many messages are missing.
Several members of the Jan. 6 committee have publicly voiced their concerns about the reported destruction of the messages.
“Four House committees had already sought these critical records from the Department of Homeland Security before the records were apparently lost,” committee Chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in a joint statement Wednesday.
“Additionally, the procedure for preserving content prior to this purge appears to have been contrary to federal records retention requirements and may represent a possible violation of the Federal Records Act. The Select Committee is seeking additional Secret Service records as well. Every effort must be made to retrieve the lost data as well.”
Thursday’s report emerged just hours before the committee held its eighth public hearing in their probe of the riot. The primetime hearing is expected to focus on former President Donald Trump’s inaction on Jan. 6 while the Capitol building was besieged.