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Watchdog says Secret Service deleted January 6 text messages

WASHINGTON (AP) – United States (US) Secret Service agents deleted text messages sent and received around the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol even after an inspector general requested them as part of an investigation into the insurrection, the government watchdog has found.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), in a letter obtained by The Associated Press, said the messages between January 5 and January 6, 2021, were erased “as part of a device-replacement programme”.

The erasure came after the watchdog office requested records of electronic communications between the agents as part of its probe into events surrounding the January 6 attack, the letter said.

Additionally, DHS personnel were told they couldn’t provide records to the inspector general and any such records would first have to be reviewed by DHS attorneys.

“This review led to a weeks-long delays in OIG obtaining records and created confusion over whether all records had been produced,” states the letter, which was dated Wednesday and sent to leaders of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees.

A United States Secret Service officer takes his position in the street. PHOTO: AP

Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi objected to the letter on Thursday night, saying, “The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false. In fact, the Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the OIG in every respect – whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts.”

He said the Secret Service had started to reset its mobile devices to factory settings in January 2021 “as part of a pre-planned, three-month system migration”. In that process, some data was lost.

The allegation that officials at the inspector general’s office were not given timely access to the material because of a review by Homeland Security attorneys had been raised by the inspector general before and is also not true, he said.

“DHS has repeatedly and publicly debunked this allegation, including in response to OIG’s last two semi-annual reports to Congress,” Guglielmi added.