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What happens with all the missing texts of January 6

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After a summer of House committee hearings on January 6, 2021, rioting at the United States Capitol, there are still lingering mysteries about how the day itself unfolded:

Why did it take hours for the National Guard to respond to the violence on Capitol Hill? And did President Donald Trump want to join the insurgents on Capitol Hill so badly that he physically wrestled his Secret Service agent to get him there? And if so, what did the Secret Service do about it?

“I think that’s the biggest mystery left,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a Jan. 6 committee member, recently said of how the Secret Service responded to Trump.

But some potentially valuable evidence is missing: text messages from the Secret Service and senior Trump administration security and military officials.

We don’t know what’s in those missing text messages – we don’t know why they’re missing either. Here’s what we know about this evolving story.

Ok, whose texts are missing?

  • Text messages from Secret Service agents, including those who were in the field with Trump on the day of the attack and their then-director.
  • Texts from senior officials of the agency that oversees the Secret Service – the Department of Homeland Security. That includes agency No. 1 and No. 2 Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli. (Wolf said that he returned his equipment to the service with his data intact and that he complied with all retention rules.)
  • Texts from top military leaders, including Department of Defense No. 1 Chris Miller and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy.

We do not know. The agencies involved said there was a simple explanation: a routine, agency-wide reset of government phones, before the arrival of the new administration.

But in the case of the Secret Service, agents were supposed to upload texts regarding government business to a server before wiping their phones in mid-January 2021. Many did not, Carol Leonnig and Maria reported. Sacchetti from the Washington Post.

And in the case of the Department of Defense, days after the attack, a watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking it to retain its records. “Even then, it was obvious that these messages could have been important,” said Clark Pettig, spokesperson for American Oversight.

The Pentagon suppressed texts from key military leaders — including those who decide if and when to send troops to the Capitol — days after the request was filed. This means that these messages were deleted even though there was a pending legal request to keep them. (A defense official told the Post that these deletions were standard and that “no one was trying to hide or conceal anything.”)

Department of Homeland Security watchdog Joseph V. Cuffari investigates missing Secret Service and Homeland Security texts. But it was a Trump appointee who blocked previous investigations into the Trump administration, and now Democrats on the Jan. 6 congressional committee say he knew about the missing Secret Service texts for months and doesn’t didn’t tell them. Cuffari is now under investigation for his alleged partisan conduct, and Republican senators are backing him, the Post’s Lisa Rein reports.

The fact that the texts are missing from several defense and law enforcement agencies after such an unprecedented political event as January 6 – which directly involved all these agencies – arouses suspicion.

“The fact that this appears to have been a wider issue is concerning. We don’t know what happened or why,” Pettig said. “But it’s a significant number of potentially important documents from January 6 that apparently no longer exist. And it should have been obvious to anyone that the records from that day would be important.

Outside cybersecurity experts and former government officials told The Post’s Drew Harwell, Will Oremus, and Joseph Menn that these agencies should never have lost text messages when they reset government phones; it’s a simple process, and it should have been relatively easy and obvious to keep the messages from the day of the attack.

“It’s like we had a 9/11 attack and air traffic control erased their records,” Paul Rosenzweig, a former homeland security official under George W. Bush, told them.

“There’s a lot of smoke out there,” said Meredith McGehee, an ethics expert who led the bipartisan watchdog group Issue One. “And when there’s smoke like that, and you have that historic moment where a former president appears to be conspiring to prevent the duly elected president from taking office, then you have a problem.”

What information is missing?

We don’t know, because it’s gone. The Secret Service in particular said they could not recover the missing texts. And with it, any corroborating evidence of what happened that day. For example, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified during the Jan. 6 congressional inquiry that Trump tried to physically push his Secret Service agent to help him join protesters on Capitol Hill. But she said she was told about it afterwards and didn’t see it firsthand; others denied that it happened. So it’s possible that text messages from agents in the field that day, responding to what was happening in real time, could shed light on moments like this.

Separately, at the Pentagon, it remains unclear why it took the military so long to organize a response – National Guard troops were only sent in when the attack lasted for hours. It is not clear if the military leaders disagreed on how to react, or if they hesitated to react forcefully or what their reasons were. Anyway, it is possible that the missing text messages allow us to understand why the response has been so slow.

We may never know if this is something malicious or an innocent technical issue.

Other Jan. 6 investigations have underscored how important even seemingly minor documents can be. In particular, the January 6 committee revealed during its hearings a previously unknown draft tweet from Trump, which indicated that the former president had seen it (although he ultimately did not send it). He encouraged people to march to the Capitol, suggesting that urging protesters to do so during that Jan. 6 speech may not have been spontaneous on Trump’s part.

The biggest moments from a summer of January 6 ratings

“As we’ve seen over the past year and a half of investigations,” Pettig said, the minute-by-minute timeline matters. This is the classic question of: Who knew what, and when did he know it?




Washington

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