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Secret Service deleted text messages from Jan. 6 and previous day, Homeland Security watchdog says

WASHINGTON — The Secret Service erased text messages from both Jan. 6 and the day before the attack on the Capitol after the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog requested records of electronic communications tied to the insurrection, according to a letter sent to congressional committees that was obtained by NBC News.

The details about the deleted messages were revealed in a letter to two congressional committees Wednesday, in which Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari said he was informed that many of the messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021, had been erased “as part of a device-replacement program.”

The Intercept first reported the content of the letters.

A spokesperson for the House Homeland Security Committee confirmed the letter, which was also given to the Jan. 6 committee, a source familiar with the matter confirmed.

Cuffari’s letter was also addressed to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“The USSS erased those text messages after OIG requested records of electronic communications from the USSS, as part of our evaluation of events at the Capitol on January 6,” Cuffari said in his letter.

He added that DHS personnel had repeatedly told inspectors that “they were not permitted to provide records directly” to the watchdog and that the records first needed to be reviewed by the agency’s attorneys.

“This review led to weeks-long delays in OIG obtaining records and created confusion over whether all records had been produced,” he said.

Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted Thursday, “We take strong issue with these categorically false claims and I will be responding in detail shortly.”

NBC News has asked DHS and its inspector general for comment. The Secret Service, whose director announced last week that he was stepping down after having served in the role since May 2019, is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

The deleted text messages are likely to put a new focus on the Secret Service’s actions surrounding the Jan. 6 riot.

Last month, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson delivered bombshell testimony that involved a description of a physical altercation between former President Donald Trump and his top security official.

Hutchinson said that in conversations with her, Secret Service official Tony Ornato described a livid Trump grabbing for the steering wheel from the back seat, wrestling with one of the bodyguards for control of the car and ultimately grabbing the bodyguard’s throat when he learned he was being driven back to the White House instead of to the Capitol to join his supporters after his speech at the Ellipse.

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