Secret Service Says It's Very Cool, Very Legal For Agents To Delete All Their Texts

Not to put too fine a point on it, but what the hell is going on with the Secret Service? The January 6 Select Committee seems to have kicked loose a whole hornet's nest of fuckery at the agency charged with guarding the president, and every day brings new, alarming details.

The agency first wound up in the spotlight thanks to Mark Meadows's aide Cassidy Hutchinson testifying that agents refused Donald Trump's order to drive him to the Capitol on January 6, preventing him from leading the violent mob seeking to block certification of Joe Biden's win as it laid siege to Congress. Everyone fixated on the detail of Trump attacking his driver — can you blame us? — which the Secret Service denied, promising to put its agents on the witness stand. The right immediately attempted to discredit Hutchinson's testimony in its entirety, even calling to prosecute her for perjury.

That was a month ago and the agents in question have yet to come in to offer their own competing version of events. If you can even believe it!

“Some of the officers said that they would be coming and talking under oath,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren said last week. “They have not come in, and they recently retained private counsel, which is unusual but they have a right to do that."

In the meantime, the US Secret Service (USSS) has become engulfed in a massive scandal that's quickly metastasizing to infect the entire Department of Homeland Security. Because the agents' texts, perhaps the best piece of contemporaneous information about the events leading up to the Capitol Riot, got "accidentally" deleted when the USSS migrated to new phones in late January of 2021. That was after Congress sent a letter to DHS, USSS's parent agency, instructing it to preserve documents related to the events leading up to the attack.

DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari was first out of the gate, with a July 13 letter to the Homeland Security committees in the House and Senate, describing "ongoing records access issues" in his investigation of the events surrounding the Capitol riot. Accusing the USSS of stonewalling, he reported that "many US Secret Service text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, were erased as part of a device-replacement program," even after his office requested the documents in February of that year.

Anthony Guglielmi, spox for USSS, responded with a statement blaming Cuffari, and furiously insisting that "none of the texts [the IG] was seeking had been lost in the migration." This was apparently a lie, since the agency's document retention policy amounted to asking the agents to upload any relevant data a couple of weeks beforehand, and then wiping their phones without checking first to see if they'd done it. Spoiler alert: They hadn't. So the USSS's recent disclosure in response to a January 6 Committee request for documents consisted of exactly one text.

Cuffari and Guglielmi have been sliming the shit out of each other in the press, making it difficult to see exactly who the bad guy is here. Turns out, it's probably both of 'em. Hooray, prizes for everyone!

The Washington Postreports that Cuffari, who was appointed by Trump in March of 2020, has known since at least February, and possibly earlier, that the agents' texts had been deleted. He failed to notify Congress, only writing his letter last month when a whistleblower approached the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) about Cuffari's dereliction. Once POGO tipped off Congress, a second whistleblower confirmed the account. In case the import of this isn't jumping out at you, many commercial providers only save cell phone data for a year. If Cuffari hadn't sat on this info, the odds of retrieving it would have been much higher six months ago.

And not for nothing, but POGO reports that Cuffari is a total garbage person who buried a report on 10,000+ DHS employees who complained of harassment or sexual misconduct, continued to allow border patrol agents accused of domestic violence to carry government-issued guns, and is accused of retaliating against whistleblowers. Nice, huh?

As for Guglielmi, his version of events is too ridiculous to even credit. It was totally normal and fine for agents to decide which government records to preserve, deleting texts from government devices in the same month they were sent? REALLY? No reputable company with thousands of employees would have a record retention policy like that, and civilians aren't governed by the Federal Records Act. Guglielmi's ability to make such a preposterous statement with a straight face doesn't obligate us to engage with it in good faith, and so we won't.

More importantly, Guglielmi's spinning won't shield the agency from investigations. As CNN was first to report, DHS has launched a criminal investigation of the missing texts, ordering the USSS to halt its own internal investigation. And the Secret Service's apparent fuckery has put it squarely in the January 6 Committee's sights.

"The extent to which there are no text messages from the relevant period of time, the extent to which we have not had the kind of cooperation that we really need to have, those are all the things the committee is going to be looking at in more detail in the coming weeks," Vice Chair Liz Cheney promised on Fox News Sunday.

Bring it, ma'am. Elmo fire dot gif. Fuck 'em all up.

[WaPo / CNN]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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