The Secret Service deleted Jan. 6 text messages and obstructed an IG’s investigation
The January 6th Committee subpoenaed the U.S. Secret Service for records after a government watchdog accused the agency of erasing texts from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021.
Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari sent a letter to lawmakers last week, informing them that he was told that many Secret Service messages from around the time of the insurrection were erased “as part of a device-replacement program” shortly after the IG’s office requested their electronic communications.
“The USSS erased those text messages after OIG requested records of electronic communications from the USSS, as part of our evaluation of events at the Capitol on January 6,” Cuffari said in his letter.
He added that DHS personnel had repeatedly told inspectors that “they were not permitted to provide records directly” to the watchdog and that the records first needed to be reviewed by the agency’s attorneys.
“This review led to weeks-long delays in OIG obtaining records and created confusion over whether all records had been produced,” he said.
The Secret Service came to the Committee’s attention during former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony that included a description of a physical altercation that Trump got into with a bodyguard at the Ellipse. According to Hutchinson, Secret Service official Tony Ornato learned that Trump grabbed the steering wheel and lunged toward the bodyguard’s throat in an attempt to go with insurrectionists to the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Ornato, for his part, denies he told Hutchinson anything about an altercation between an agent and the former president—at least according to an anonymous official “familiar with the matter.” And it’s not the first time that former Trump officials reported that Ornato denied conversations that others attest to having taken place.
One came from a book by The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker, “I Alone Can Fix It.” They reported Ornato told a senior White House official, Keith Kellogg, during the Capitol riot that agents were going to move Vice President Mike Pence to Joint Base Andrews. Kellogg rejected this:
“You can’t do that, Tony,” Kellogg said. “Leave him where he’s at. He’s got a job to do. I know you guys too well. You’ll fly him to Alaska if you have a chance. Don’t do it.”
Pence had made clear to [the lead agent on Pence’s security detail Tim] Giebels the level of his determination and Kellogg said there was no changing it.
“He’s going to stay there,” Kellogg told Ornato. “If he has to wait there all night, he’s going to do it.”
But, through a spokesman, Ornato denied the conversation took place.
Both former White House aide Alyssa Farah Griffin and former Pence aide Olivia Troye have also cast doubt on Ornato’s denials, with the latter saying “those of us who worked w/ Tony know where his loyalties lie.”
A history of Trumpism
That the Secret Service contained members who were sympathetic to Trump and his policies is not new information, but may not be well known. Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig detailed the agency’s strong conservative tilt in her book “Zero Fail”:
[Special Secret Service Agent Kerry] O’Grady had trouble stifling her concerns about Trump. The day after his inauguration, the day of the Women’s March, she updated her profile picture to add an image of Princess Leia. The caption underneath read: A woman’s place is in the resistance…
Agents across the country, especially male supervisors, hit the roof…when O’Grady arrived at the D.C. airport, she was surprised to find that an agent she didn’t know was picking her up and taking her to the agency’s internal affairs unit for an investigation. She had to turn over her gun. While she waited to go into an interview room, Tony Ornato, the head of Trump’s detail and a colleague she knew well, emerged from that same room and glared at O’Grady. “Hey, Tony,” she said, but he walked away without responding…
…agents and alums outraged at her anti-Trump sentiments weren’t equally offended by agents who expressed racist views or personal and political disgust with Hillary Clinton…No supervisors complained about field office agents who had “Make America Great Again” hats on their desks. Supervisors hadn’t raised the same harsh objections when friends on the job shared “Crooked Hillary” memes that depicted the former secretary of state with red eyes and a devil’s pointy ears, or swapped crude jokes about her inability to satisfy her husband. The Secret Service was still overwhelmingly an agency of cops who preferred long prison sentences for bad guys rather than sentencing reform, who, like Trump, tended to speak dismissively about women, minorities, and immigrants.
The pro-Trump sentiment in the agency only intensified around the insurrection, with numerous agents offering public praise for the events of the day.
One Secret Service officer called the armed protesters “patriots” seeking to undo an illegitimate election, and falsely claimed to her friends that disguised Antifa members had started the violence. One presidential detail agent reposted a popular anti-Biden screed that criticized Democrats for their relentless attacks on Trump. It read: “I tolerated #44 (Obama) for 8 years and kept quiet. Here is my issue with the whole, ‘let us all be a United States again’ that we heard from Joe Biden. We remember the 4 years of attacks and impeachments. We remember the resistance and ‘not our president’. We remember the president’s spokesperson being kicked out a [sic] restaurant….We remember that we were called every name in the book for supporting President Trump.”
Others shared the commentary of pro-Trump conspiracy leaders criticizing Democrats. One agent reposted the image of an upside down American flag, a military signal for extreme distress, with the words of right-wing activist Raheem Kassam: “In less than 12 months they closed our businesses, forced us to wear muzzles, kept us from our families, killed off our sports, burned down our cities, forcibly seized power, and shut down our speech. Then they accused us of the coup.”
With this in mind, perhaps it is less mysterious that former Vice President Mike Pence refused to get into a Secret Service car in the middle of the January 6th insurrection.
At 2:26, after a team of agents scouted a safe path to ensure the Pences would not encounter trouble, [special agent Tim] Giebels and the rest of Pence’s detail guided them down a staircase to a secure subterranean area that rioters couldn’t reach, where the vice president’s armored limousine awaited. Giebels asked Pence to get in one of the vehicles. “We can hold here,” he said.
“I’m not getting in the car, Tim,” Pence replied. “I trust you, Tim, but you’re not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car.”