US Secret Service leaders confiscated cellphones from 24 agents involved in the response to the Capitol attack amid a criminal investigation about missing text messages from 5 and 6 January 2021, according to a new report.
Citing “two sources with knowledge of the action”, NBC News said the phones were handed to Joseph Cuffari, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, in late July or early August, shortly after Cuffari launched an investigation requested by the National Archives.
“One source familiar with the Secret Service decision to comply with Cuffari’s request said some agents were upset their leaders were quick to confiscate the phones without their input,” NBC reported. “But given that the phones belong to the agency … the agents had little say in the matter.”
The Secret Service did not immediately comment. Cuffari’s office said it would not confirm or comment on the investigation.
In July, Cuffari told Congress Secret Service text messages from 5 January 2021, the day before Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, and 6 January had been erased despite an oversight request.
The resulting tussle between the Trump-appointed official and the House January 6 committee and made dramatic headlines.
Investigators have since secured access to chats and emails between agents on security details for Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
The committee is seeking to establish how the Secret Service moved Trump and his vice-president – and why – as the Capitol attack unfolded.
Testimony has described how Trump struggled with one member of his security detail, as he was moved to the White House instead of going to the Capitol with his supporters.
The committee has also been told how Pence’s detail moved him through the Capitol as rioters broke in with some chanting “Hang Mike Pence” as a gallows was erected outside.
An unnamed security official said: “The members of the VP detail were starting to fear for their own lives. There was a lot of yelling. There were a lot of very personal calls over the radio … there were calls to say goodbye to family members … for whatever reason it was on the ground, the VP detail thought this was about to get very ugly.
“… It sounds like we came very close to either Service having to use lethal options or worse.”
In July, referring to controversy over the missing texts and friction between the House committee and Secret Service officials, the presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted: “For all of those … agents who seem to love and venerate Trump, look at how he did nothing to defend Mike Pence’s agents on January 6 as they called their frightened families to say goodbye forever.”
The rioters were attempting to stop certification of Joe Biden’s election victory, a process overseen by the vice-president. Pence reportedly resisted Secret Service attempts to remove him from the Capitol.
In their book I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post said Pence refused to get into a car.
A Pence aide, Keith Kellogg, reportedly told Tony Ornato, the head of Trump’s detail who became deputy White House chief of staff, Pence had “a job to do” and was going to stay at the Capitol “if he has to wait there all night”.
Pence ultimately presided over the certification in the small hours of 7 January.