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DHS Inspector General Tells Secret Service to Stop Investigating Possible Missing Texts

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The Inspector General wrote in a letter Wednesday evening that the Secret Service should stop investigating the matter, as it could hinder the Inspector General’s own investigation into what happened to the Service’s text messages.

The letter adds to growing tension between the Secret Service and the DHS Inspector General over the possibly missing text messages, which are being sought by the House Selection Committee as part of its investigation into the actions and movements of former President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021.

“To ensure the integrity of our investigation, the USSS should not undertake any further investigative activities related to the collection and preservation of the evidence identified above,” DHS Deputy Inspector General Gladys Ayala wrote in a letter to James Murray, director of the Secret Service, dated July 20. “This includes immediately refraining from interviewing potential witnesses, collecting devices, or taking any other action that would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The Inspector General wrote that the Secret Service should explain which interviews had already been conducted regarding the text messages, along with the “scope of the interrogation and any warnings given to the witness(es)”. The Inspector General told the Secret Service to respond by Monday.

The secret service acknowledged in a statement that it had received the letter from the Inspector General. “We have notified the Jan. 6 Select Committee of the Inspector General’s request and will conduct a thorough legal review to ensure that we are fully cooperating with all oversight efforts and that they are not in conflict with each other,” the agency said in the statement.

The new letter comes after the Secret Service was able to send only one text message to the Inspector General, who, according to a letter to the Select Committee, had requested a month’s worth of records for 24 Secret Service personnel.

CNN has asked the Secret Service and the Inspector General of DHS for comment.

The directive could complicate the Secret Service’s response to a subpoena it received from the House selection committee last week, as well as a request from the National Archives this week to the DHS records officer to ask the agency to clear up. whether the text messages were deleted and explain why.

The select committee chair, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, wrote in a letter to the Secret Service director that the panel was looking for text messages dated January 5-6, 2021.

In a joint statement Wednesday, Thompson and the commission’s vice-chair, Liz Cheney, said they were “concerned” about how the Secret Service’s cell phone data was being deleted.

“The content retention process prior to this purge appears to have violated federal record retention requirements and may be a potential violation of the Federal Records Act,” they said.

The Secret Service told the commission this week it was making “extensive efforts” to determine if any text messages had been lost and whether they could be recovered. Those steps include “querying all available metadata to determine which, if any, texts were sent or received on the identified individuals’ devices,” the agency said in a letter, as well as interviewing the 24 individuals “to determine whether messages were stored in locations that had not yet been searched by the Secret Service.”

The agency said it was “currently not aware of any text messages from Secret Service employees” requested by the inspector general “that were not kept”.

The group of 24 includes senior officials, several of whom stayed during the day in a secure location known as a SCIF (secure compartmentalized information facility), where cell phones are not allowed, according to a source familiar with the case. The source also said that about half of the individuals are under review to determine whether text messages were sent and received and possibly deleted, and what that content may have been.

Researchers found that at least three of the people had only private text messages, which they did not consider a public record, while researchers believe others have no text messages at all, the source said. The agency has so far established one relevant exchange of text, which it has given to the Inspector General and the Commission. The Secret Service told the Inspector General last year that, other than the single text message, the agency had “no further details responding to the request”.

The Inspector General has claimed that the Secret Service deleted text messages dated January 5 and 6, 2021, not long after they were requested by supervisory officials investigating the Secret Service’s response to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, according to a letter that the Inspector General sent to the Parliamentary Committee.

The Secret Service previously explained that it was up to the employees to carry out the necessary data retention from their phones. The letter said the agency did provide staff with a “step-by-step” guide to preserving cell phone content, including text messages, ahead of the phone migration that began on January 27, 2021. It further explained that “all Secret Service employees are responsible for properly preserving government records that may be created via SMS.”

This story was updated Thursday with additional developments.

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