Behind the story of missing text messages from the US Secret Service and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, lies a bigger scandal: Former President Donald Trump placed his followers in key executive positions to a reason. Many are still there.
The most benign explanation for the widespread disappearance of Secret Service text messages surrounding the January 6 uprising is the agency’s incredible leadership incompetence. The actual explanation may be more nefarious.
April 2019: Trump removes Secret Service Director Randolph Alles. He had been John Kelly’s former Homeland Security Secretary selection for the post. But by late December 2018, Trump had ousted Kelly as White House chief of staff and began purging DHS of Kelly’s leadership team there.
To replace Alles, Trump sought Tony Ornato, who had LEDs The detail of Trump’s personal security until Trump named him Deputy White House Chief of Staff – a unprecedented move for supposedly apolitical Secret Service agents. Ornato Told Trump to choose James Murray to run the service instead. After a 10-minute interview with Murray, Trump did.
July 2019: Trump appoints Joseph Cuffari to replace the DHS Inspector General (DHS OIG). During the previous six yearsCuffari had served as an adviser to Republican Arizona governors Jan Brewer and Doug Ducey. As IG of DHS, he was meant to be the independent, nonpartisan watchdog overseeing the department.
But that was never how Trump saw an IG. For a six-week period in April and May 2020, Trump fired five IGs, including Michael Atkinson, his own appointee. Atkinson had determined that Congress should see the “credible” and “urgent” whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to Trump’s first impeachment. Then he alerted Congress that Trump’s director of national intelligence hid the complaint from lawmakers.
June 2020: Following the police killing of George Floyd, the Secret Service helped clear Black Lives Matter protesters from Lafayette Square for Trump’s photo op, where he held up a Bible. Ten days later, career staffers in Cuffari’s office proposed an investigation to determine whether the Service had violated its use-of-force policies. Cuffari blocked investigation.
August 2020: While shielding Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at campaign rallies and appearances, dozens of Secret Service agents contracted COVID-19. Cuffari sought to limit— and then ultimately dropped — an investigation into whether the Service ignored federal protocols to detect and reduce the spread of the pandemic among its workforce.
The Missing Texts Timeline – So Far
In addition to protecting the country’s leaders, the Secret Service has the world’s greatest expertise in cybersecurity. But now he claims to have botched a standard tech exercise.
Fall 2020: According to the Secret Service, it started Planning migrate all electronic devices to a new system. The process would erase all employee text messages from their phones.
December 9, 2020: The Secret Service Office of Strategic Planning sent a E-mail Agency employees reminding them of their responsibility to maintain records and including instructions on how to do so. The agency’s chief information officer sent a similar email in January 2021.
January 16, 2021: As Trump’s second impeachment inquiry continues, multiple House committees directed DHS – which includes the Secret Service – to produce all documents relating to Jan. 6. Additional requests from Congress arrived on March 25, August 11 and August 25, 2021.
January 20, 2021: Inauguration day
January 25, 2021: The Secret Service Told its staff to back up data from their phones, leaving individual agents to decide what to keep. Later computer scientists describe this approach as “ridiculous” and “crazy”.
January 27, 2021: System-Wide Migration beganremoving anything that individual agents hadn’t backed up.
February 4, 2021: All Secret Service employees received an email asking them to keep all communications specific to January 6.
February 26, 2021: first Cuffari office demand Secret Service electronic documents, “after the migration was well underway”, according to the service.
April 1, 2021: System-wide migration has been completed. completed.
May 2021: The Secret Service notified Cuffari’s office that his agents’ text messages had been deleted, but Cuffari did not notify Congress.
June 11, 2021: Cuffari office demand recordings and texts from 24 Secret Service employees, including the heads of security details at Trump and Pence, relating to January 6, 2021.
July 27, 2021: Chez Cuffari Deputy IG Thomas Kait, a Trump appointee who had been involved revising an unpublished December 2020 report to downplay domestic violence and sexual misconduct by DHS law enforcement officers, Told DHS that the IG office was not anymore search for secret service text messages.
February 18, 2022: Late in the evening, one of Cuffari’s assistants sent by e-mail investigators, telling them to halt efforts to recover lost texts and other data.
February 4, 2022: Deputy IG Kait deleted in a draft memo criticizing DHS for failing to provide previously requested documents, including text messages. The final version of the memo, dated Feb. 10, says otherwise, praising DHS’s response to the IG’s request.
End of February 2022: DHS notified Cuffari that text messages from Trump’s top DHS officials – Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Undersecretary Ken Cuccinelli – had been lost during a “reset” of their phones when they left office in January 2021. But Cuffari did not notify Congress or investigate.
June 28, 2022: Cassidy Hutchinson publicly testified that on January 6, 2021, she met with Tony Ornato and Bobby Engel, Trump’s Secret Service detail chief. After Trump’s speech to the crowd at the Ellipse, Ornato invited Hutchinson to his White House office where Engel sat in a chair “looking somewhat bewildered and a bit lost.” Ornato then explained why.
After the speech, Engel had refused Trump’s request that the limousine take him to the US Capitol. A furious Trump rushed towards the driver. When Engel grabbed Trump’s arm to get his hand off the wheel, Trump used his free arm to lunge at Engel’s “collar bones.”
Through intermediaries, Ornato and Engel initially denied Hutchinson’s account. But when DHS officials invited them to challenge his story under oath, they hired attorneys and fell silent.
The spotlight turned to possible text messages implicating Engel and other agents, not only on January 6, but also during the days leading up to the insurgency. (Divergent stories still circulate on why Vice President Mike Pence refused to comply with the Secret Service’s request to ride in an armored limo during the attack.)
July 7, 2022: Director Murray announcement his resignation, effective July 30.
July 13, 2022: Cuffari wrote to the House and Senate committees overseeing DHS that the agency’s text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021 “were erased as part of a device replacement program…after [Cuffari’s office] asked them. (Emphasis in original)
But then, July 14, 2022: the Secret Service released a statement saying that Cuffari’s office “first requested electronic communications on February 26, 2021, after the migration was well underway. The Secret Service notified DHS OIG of the loss of some phone data, but confirmed to the OIG that none of the texts he was looking for had been lost in the migration.” (emphasis ours)
July 19, 2022: The Secret Service product a single text message, “namely, a text conversation of former United States Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund with former Secret Service Uniformed Division Chief Thomas Sullivan asking for ‘help on January 6, 2021,’ and said he had no other records responding to the IG’s text request.
Late July 20, 2022: Cuffari office notified the Secret Service that it should stop its internal search for the missing texts so that it does not interfere with the IG’s “ongoing criminal investigation” into the matter.
July 28, 2022: Murray, Director of the Secret Service announcement that he will delay his resignation for a “brief period”.
The story is far from over. Of them whistleblowers came forward, and the National Archives wants to know what happened.
The enemy within
Like the American postmaster Louis DeJoy, Cuffari is among the dozens of trump remnants still occupying key positions in the federal government.
As Trump railed against the “deep state”, he was creating his own.