DHS inspector general tells Secret Service to stop probing potentially hidden texts

“This is to inform you that the Department of Homeland Security is continuing its investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the collection and preservation of evidence by the US Secret Service related to the events of January 6, 2021,” DHS Deputy Inspector General Gladys Ayala said in a July 20 letter to Secret Service Director James Murray. wrote

The Inspector General continued: “To ensure the integrity of our investigation, the USSS must not engage in any further investigative activities related to the collection and preservation of the above-mentioned evidence. This includes immediately refraining from interviewing potential witnesses, collecting devices, or taking any other action that would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The letter adds to the growing tension between the Secret Service and the DHS inspector general over text messages sought by the House Select Committee on Jan. 6, 2021, as part of its investigation into the actions and movements of former President Donald Trump. .

The federal government’s inspector general may refer the findings of their investigations to federal prosecutors.

The inspector general wrote that the Secret Service should explain what interviews had already been conducted regarding the text messages, “what witnesses were being questioned and what warnings were given.” The inspector general told the Secret Service to respond by Monday.

The Secret Service, in a statement, acknowledged receipt of the inspector general’s letter. “We communicated the Inspector General’s request to the Select Committee on January 6 and will conduct a thorough legal review to ensure that we are fully cooperating with all oversight efforts and that they do not conflict with each other,” the agency said in the statement.

A Secret Service spokesman said, “We are not aware of a criminal allegation, but are committed to cooperating with the inspector general.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on the reference to an “ongoing criminal investigation” in the inspector general’s letter.

A new letter arrives after the Secret Service Only managed to deliver a text message The inspector general had requested a month’s worth of records for 24 Secret Service personnel, according to a letter to the select committee.

A DHS Office of the Inspector General spokesperson told CNN, “Consistent with Attorney General guidelines, the DHS OIG generally does not confirm or comment on the existence of ongoing investigations.”

The order would complicate the Secret Service’s response Subpoena received from a House Select Committee last week, as well as from the National Archives this week asking the agency to clarify whether the text messages were deleted from the DHS records officer and explain why.

The chairman of the selection committee, a Democratic representative from Mississippi. In a letter to Secret Service Director Bennie Thompson, the group is seeking text messages from January 5-6, 2021.

In a joint statement Wednesday, Thompson and the committee’s deputy chairman, Rep. Liz Cheney, said they were “concerned” about how the Secret Service’s cellphone data was deleted.

“This practice of preserving content prior to purging appears inconsistent with federal records retention requirements and may represent a potential violation of the Federal Records Act,” they said.

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

The agency said it is “currently unaware of any text messages provided by Secret Service employees” requested by the inspector general.

The 24-member team includes top officials, many of whom are housed in a secure location known as the SCIF (Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility), where cellphones are not allowed during the day, according to a source familiar with the matter. The source also said that half of the individuals are reviewing text messages sent, received and deleted to determine what the content may have been.

Investigators determined that at least three individuals had only private text messages that they did not consider public record, while investigators believe the others had no text messages, the source said. The agency has thus far produced a relevant textual exchange, which it has provided to the Inspector General and the Committee. The Secret Service told the inspector general last year that, aside from a single text message, the agency had “no further records” in response to the request.

The inspector general accused the Secret Service of destroying text messages from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, shortly after they were requested by oversight officials investigating the Secret Service’s response to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, according to a letter. The Inspector General was referred to the House Select Committee.

The Secret Service has previously explained that it is up to employees to maintain the necessary security of recordings from their phones. The letter said it provided service personnel with a “step-by-step” guide to securing mobile phone content, including text messages, ahead of the phone migration that began on January 27, 2021. “All Secret Service personnel,” it explained. They are responsible for properly protecting government records that may be generated by text messaging.”

This story and headline were updated Thursday with additional updates.

CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.

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