The Secret Service turned over a large number of documents to the select committee probing the attack on the U.S. Capitol, including expanded details from radio transmissions, emails, and other correspondence sought after by investigators for months.
On MSNBC on Wednesday, Jan. 6 select committee member Zoe Lofgren said that the trove of materials featured about 1,000 items, though what was produced by the Secret Service was not exhaustive. Investigators are poring through those records now, Lofgren said. She expects the agency to hand over additional documents in the coming days.
But a distinction about the records submitted should be made upfront: Though Lofgren stated that the tranche included “text messages” from the Secret Service specifically—and Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said the same to reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday—Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesperson for the Secret Service, made a distinction when Daily Kos reached the agency for comment on Thursday.
Guglielmi initially released a statement saying that “while no additional text messages were recovered, we have provided a significant level of detail from emails, radio transmissions, Microsoft Teams chat messages, and exhibits that address aspects of planning, operations, and communications surrounding January 6th.”
Lofgren or Thompson may have innocently conflated those Microsoft Teams chats they received from the agency with “text messages” when speaking to the press.
Social media sites like Twitter became engulfed with intense excitement following the remarks about the “text messages” and activists, academics, and pundits alike shared tweets proclaiming messages like “missing Secret Service texts” were received.
A spokesperson for the committee did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday.
And though it may seem a fiddly point to focus on, or perhaps even an unnecessary distinction to make, the select committee and Secret Service’s interactions and mutual statements deserve careful scrutiny.
That scrutiny is warranted after revelations emerged earlier this year that text messages between Secret Service agents from Jan. 5, 2021 and Jan. 6, 2021 were erased even after members of Congress and government watchdogs had requested those texts be retained as the probe of the insurrection was ongoing.
Those text messages could have offered vital information around key moments of the insurrection and perhaps the extent of Trump’s involvement or the awareness of his involvement by those in his security detail. The Secret Service said that the messages were deleted as part of a global reset of personnel devices. And though Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, a Trump appointee, was first to alert Congress to the missing messages, as legislators and the press looked closer and more records surfaced, lawmakers concluded that it was Cuffari who had waited months, and against DHS policy, to tell members of Congress about the deleted texts.
Though his recusal was called for swiftly by members of Congress and leadership on the Jan. 6 probe, Cuffari has refused to step down.
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As of August, Cuffari was still under investigation by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. The Washington Post reported that Cuffari’s handling of staff interviews and staff records for more than a year was at the center of that assessment. Cuffari was also accused of misleading investigators in another matter nearly a decade ago.
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During its public hearings this year, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the Jan. 6 committee that former President Donald Trump tried to grab at the neck of Secret Service agent Bobby Engel as Engel drove Trump away from his speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6.
Trump was told he would not be taken to the U.S. Capitol. According to Hutchinson, it was Tony Ornato, the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail, who recounted Trump’s explosive reaction in the moments after it happened.
Ornato, who served as the Secret Service deputy director, contested Hutchinson’s account publicly. Though he said he would testify before the select committee, by late August, members of the panel said there was no communication from Ornato. Then, two days before Ornato was to meet with investigators at the DHS to discuss the deleted Secret Service texts, he retired. The Intercept was first to report Ornato’s retirement.
Further questions the Secret Service could potentially help answer are those lingering inquiries around former Vice President Mike Pence.
Efforts by agents to have him whisked away during the riots were met with a stubborn refusal from Pence. Pence trusted his Secret Service detail, but he didn’t trust where they might take him if he got into a car, Pence’s counsel Greg Jacob said at the hearings,
Jacob testified under oath that the vice president stayed at the Capitol on Jan. 6 because he “did not want to take any chance that the world would see the vice president fleeing” it.
But the stakes were multipronged. Beyond optics and even beyond the physical practical danger posed to the vice president by the mob if he left Capitol grounds, Pence was also the linchpin in the plan to overturn the 2020 election during the certification ceremony at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Had Pence been absent when the time finally came to resume the certification, it could have created a new series of opportunities for Trump to manipulate and thereby extend his stay in the White House despite his resounding defeat to now President Joe Biden.
Michael Luttig, a federal judge and adviser to Pence, testified to the committee this summer that if Pence had succumbed to Trump’s campaign to have him overturn the election, a “revolution” would have been inevitable.
For now, even if it is not additional “text messages” specifically that have been recovered, the Jan. 6 committee nonetheless has before it a bevy of Microsoft Teams chat logs and radio transmissions and emails to sort through and help them reconstruct the eve and day of the insurrection.
The Jan. 6 committee has reportedly considered Sept. 28 for its next hearing date, but its members have been cagey about confirming the date. Early Thursday morning, for example, Punchbowl News was first to report that Thompson described the panel as “still in the process of discussing” whether Sept. 28 would be locked in.