The Secret ServiceAccording to a January 6 committee letter, which was reviewed by The Intercept, text messages were erased between January 5th and January 6th 2021. Originaly, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspection General sent the letter to the House and Senate homeland safety committees. Though the Secret Service maintains that the text messages were lost as a result of a “device-replacement program,” the letter says the erasure took place shortly after oversight officials requested the agency’s electronic communications.
The Secret Service did no immediate respond to a request to comment.
The Secret Service has emerged as a key player in the explosive congressional hearings on former President Donald Trump’s role in the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to prevent the 2020 election results from being certified. Mike Pence, then Vice President of the United States, was present at the Capitol that day to sign off on the results. The Secret Service attempted to extricate Pence from the scene when rioters broke into the building.
“I’m not getting in the car,” Pence reportedlyOn January 6, Pence told the Secret Service detail. “If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off.” Had Pence entered the vice presidential limo, he would have been taken to a secure location where he would have been unable to certify the presidential election results, plunging the U.S. into uncharted waters.
“People need to understand that if Pence had listened to the Secret Service and fled the Capitol, this could have turned out a whole lot worse,” a congressional official not authorized to speak publicly told The Intercept. “It could’ve been a successful coup, not just an attempted one.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the January 6 committee, called Pence’s terse refusal — “I’m not getting in the car” — the “six most chilling words of this entire thing I’ve seen so far.”
But, the Office of Inspector General letter suggests, key evidence in the form of the Secret Service’s electronic communications may never see the light of day. The Department of Homeland Security — the Secret Service’s parent agency — is subject to oversight from the DHS Office of Inspector General, which had requested records of electronic communications from the Secret Service between January 5 and January 6, 2021, before being informed that they had been erased. It is not clear from the letter if all the messages were deleted or only a few. Department officials have also pushed back on the oversight office’s records request by arguing that the records must first undergo review by DHS attorneys, which has delayed the process and left unclear if the Secret Service records would ever be produced, according to the letter.
Asked about the matter, a DHS Office of Inspector General spokesperson told The Intercept, “To preserve the integrity of our work and protect our independence, we do not discuss our ongoing reviews or our communications with Congress.”
An alleged top Secret Service official involved in trying to send Pence home on January 6th, remains in a leadership role at the agency. Tony Ornato was a Secret Service agent that Trump met. UnprecedentedDecree to appoint him as his deputy White House Chief of Staff. reportedly informed Pence’s national security adviser, Keith Kellogg, on January 6 that agents would relocate the vice president to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. “You can’t do that, Tony,” Kellogg reportedlyOrnato. “Leave him where he’s at. He’s got a job to do. You guys are also my friends. You’ll fly him to Alaska if you have a chance. Don’t do it.” (Ornato has denied the account.)
Today Ornato serves as the assistant director of the Secret Service’s Office of Training.
Many agencies, especially those in national security, use the sensitive nature of their work to avoid oversight. This can stymie the work of inspectors general offices. It is not unusual for inspectors general to encounter institutional resistance, especially if they are highly effective. Inspectors general are sometimes not welcome when they are charged with eliminating waste, fraud and abuse.
The Intercept was provided with a document by a Customs and Border Protection official. A briefing memo produced by the agency for a leadership meeting with the DHS Office of Inspector General on July 7 instructs participants on how to push back against what it calls the inspector general’s “persistent” request for “direct, unfettered access to CBP systems,” as part of its “high number of OIG audits covering a variety of CBP program areas.” In a section titled “Watch Out For/ If Asked,” the memo describes a number of exemptions Customs and Border Protection can rely on to evade records requests from the inspector general’s office — including national security exemptions.