The letter was issued on Wednesday and was sent to USSS director James Murray by Cuffari’s deputy, Gladys Ayala.
The Secret Service notified the Jan. 6 committee earlier this week that it had only one text exchange to provide to the inspector general’s office after the agency was asked to produce the records for two dozen employees spanning Dec. 8, 2020, to Jan. 8, 2021.
The National Archives requested this week that the Secret Service launch an investigation into the missing texts and produce a report within a month. It is unclear how Cuffari’s order on Thursday will impact those requests. It is equally uncertain how the committee will proceed for now since they issued a subpoena promptly last week after the deleted texts first came to light.
“To ensure the integrity of our investigation, the USSS must not engage in any further investigative activities regarding the collection and preservation of the evidence referenced above. This includes immediately refraining from interviewing potential witnesses, collecting devices, or taking any other action that would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation,” Ayala reportedly wrote in the letter issued Thursday.
Airing concerns that the Secret Service was unable to recover texts among personnel from the eve of the insurrection as well as on the day, select committee chairman Bennie Thompson and vicechair Liz Cheney raised the question of whether the agency violated the Federal Records Act when it failed to preserve data as required before a pre-planned device migration.
The Secret Service has maintained that migration was the cause behind the texts being deleted and that nothing nefarious had occurred, pointing instead to its history of cooperation with the committee. Secret Service assistant director Ronald Rowe said in a letter to the committee this week that the agency would be willing to pull metadata to assess how the messages were lost. Rowe also vowed to conduct interviews with all 24 personnel Cuffari flagged. It is unclear how this will proceed now that Cuffari has ordered an end to the Secret Service’s probe of itself.
The inspector general has accused the Secret Service of slow walking their response to his investigation and has shared this concern with members of the select committee.
The deletion of text messages, it should be underlined, happened even though Congress requested the Secret Service retain all of its records ten days after the attack. A number of congressional committees made the same preservation requests in March and specified records dated Jan. 5 to Jan. 7.
So far, the Secret Service has not returned a request to comment for Daily Kos. The agency has said publicly that preservation protocols are left up to the discretion of individual staff members. Instructional guides were provided to agents about how to retain device data before the migration on June 27.
According to The Guardian, members of the committee are specifically investigating possible “malfeasance” around the deleted messages involving Tony Ornato, a close ally to former President Donald Trump who jumped from the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail to overseeing White House chief of staff operations. The move was controversial because civil service positions in the USSS tend not to parlay into political appointments.
Not long after Daily Kos posted this article, NBC News reported that sources familiar with the investigation have said that DHS IG Joseph Cuffarri is now opening a criminal probe into the deleted texts.
“Results of the investigation could be referred to federal prosecutors, the sources said, depending on the results,” NBC reported.