Missing text messages for top Trump administration Homeland Security officials in the days surrounding Jan. 6, 2021, are raising new questions about why the agency’s watchdog did not alert officials to the potential destruction of records.
According to a document obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, text messages for former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf as well as his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, were unable to be located.
The late February message to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Joseph Cuffari indicates that record retention issues at the agency extend beyond the Secret Service and that DHS’s own watchdog failed in multiple instances to notify lawmakers about the missing messages.
The news was first reported by The Washington Post, which described the text messages as being lost in a reset of their government phones when they left office after President Biden’s inauguration.
The correspondence from DHS’s management division alerted Cuffari that the messages could not be extracted and were no longer accessible.
The revelation of additional messages that the department is no longer able to account for comes after Cuffari was asked by lawmakers earlier this week to step aside from investigating what he said earlier this month were “erased” text messages of Secret Service agents.
Lawmakers, including Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of both the House Homeland Security Committee and the Jan. 6 select committee, said Cuffari may have violated the law by failing to alert DHS or lawmakers about the potential mismanagement of government records.
The latest development also indicated that Homeland Security Under Secretary for Management Randolph Alles, who also previously led the Secret Service, also had his phone reset and his messages were unaccounted for.
Neither Cuffari’s office nor DHS responded to requests for comment.
Both Wolf and Cuccinelli met with Jan. 6 investigators to face questions about pressure from former President Trump for DHS to seize voting machines. Baseless allegations that the machines had been hacked are thought to be behind the pressure campaign.
But their texts from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 could also shed light on how top national security advisors were reacting as the Capitol was stormed.
The Jan. 6 committee swiftly subpoenaed the Secret Service text messages after being alerted by Cuffari — roughly seven months later — that the messages were “erased” as part of a device replacement program. Secret Service contends any data that was lost was due to a migration to a new mobile management software.
Lawmakers serving on the panel said it could provide another line of inquiry.
“We’re certainly going to be looking into any emails or text messages that were within the scope of what we requested and that have been lost or destroyed,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told The Hill.
A suite of legislative committees made the request for such documents just days after the Jan. 6 attack and ahead of any planned tech updates at DHS.
“I just don’t know why everybody’s texts and emails are suddenly disappearing all over the place. So I assume it’s not just a technological problem. But we’ll get to the bottom of it,” Rep Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said.
“We would expect that they would be there and we expect to get all of the records and we will work for both legal and technological answers where evidence mysteriously disappeared,” Raskin added.
Secret Service has previously said they are unsure whether any texts are missing as they instruct agents not to use text messages for security reasons. Agents were instructed to archive any records ahead of the migration. Still, the agency ultimately turned over just one message to the Jan. 6 committee — a text from former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund pleading for help.
“Well, I’m concerned. First of all, if that information exists, what’s the format? If it’s missing, how did it end up being missed? These individuals are not connected to the Secret Service, although they are in the Department of Homeland Security. So obviously, we’ll have to look and see the connection, if any, between that,” Thompson said.