Text messages from January 5 and January 6, 2021, were deleted by the Secret Service, according to a letter sent by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General to the House and Senate Homeland Security 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 position that it deleted the texts because there was an ongoing replacement of cell phones in use by its agents is so patently absurd that it should require no response.
The revelations that they deleted critical texts that could shed light on what happened that day implicates the Secret Service even more than they already were in the critical events of that day, a day in which then-President Trump sent an armed mob to the Capitol to prevent then Vice President Pence from certifying the election of Joe Biden to the presidency.
It also makes more understandable the resistance of the former vice president to Secret Service attempts to take him out of the Capitol on the day of the attack.
“I’m not getting in the car,” Pence reportedly told his Secret Service detail on January 6. “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, thrusting the nation into constitutional crisis.
Testimony to that effect was given to the House Select Committee by Greg Jacob, former counsel to the vice president.
News of the deletion of the critical texts by the Secret Service strengthens the now widespread understanding that if Pence had listened to Tim Giebels, the chief of his Secret Service detail, and gotten into the car, Trump would have succeeded in halting the certification of the Biden victory that day.
The result would have been a coup accomplished rather than a coup attempted.
The revelations about the erased texts accentuate the importance of recent remarks by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the January 6 committee. Raskin said on national television that “I’m not getting in the car” are the “six most chilling words of this entire thing I’ve seen so far.”
The January 6 committee is looking into the revelations and says it will try to reconstruct the missing texts because they likely contain critical evidence about the events surrounding Trump’s insurrection.
Stonewalling and delays can be expected, however, from top DHS officials who will undoubtedly try to continue to cover things up.
Department officials always resist the requests from oversight officials, arguing that, regardless of what records have been deleted, everything must first be reviewed by DHS attorneys. This delays the process and leaves unclear whether the Secret Service records will ever be produced.
June 28 testimony before the Jan. 6 committee by Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide, makes the matter of the deleted texts even more serious.
Her testimony was that Trump had ordered Secret Service to drive him to the Capitol so he could address his supporters. Later that day, Secret Service officials disputed some of the aspects of her account, including her allegation that Trump had reached for the wheel of the presidential limousine and lunged at a Secret Service officer. The deleted texts could well have settled that matter.
Another serious issue is that a high-level Secret Service official who, according to testimony before the Jan. 6 committee, was involved in the attempt to transport Pence away from the Capitol on January 6, continues to play a leading role in the agency.
Tony Ornato, also according to testimony by Greg Jacob to the January 6 committee, was a Secret Service agent whom Trump appointed as his deputy White House chief of staff. Ornato told 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 told Ornato, according to the testimony. “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.” Ornato has denied the account.
The deleted texts might also have settled that matter—another good reason for Homeland Security to erase them. Ornato continues to this day as the assistant director of the Secret Service’s Office of Training.