Questions over potential deleted Secret Service text messages surrounding January 6 burst into view earlier this month with a letter from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, sparking a new investigative thread for the House January 6 committee as well as questions about the role of both the agency and the inspector general himself, Joseph Cuffari.
But the issue surrounding the possible loss of text messages dates back more than a year prior, as the Secret Service and the watchdog went back and forth on the loss of data on multiple occasions. As CNN reported on Friday, Cuffari’s office knew about the missing texts as early as May 2021, months earlier than previously known.
Here’s a timeline of how the Secret Service text messages became one of the key questions for the House committee as it prepares for the next phase of its probe into the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
January 16, 2021: Ten days after the insurrection at the Capitol, four House committees send a letter to Homeland Security and other relevant agencies instructing them to preserve records related to January 6.
It’s still unclear whether the Secret Service received the guidance. A source familiar with the investigation told CNN the Secret Service tried to find it last week but could not.
January 25, 2021: The Secret Service “instructed employees on how to preserve content on their phones,” sending a reminder to employees that a preplanned data migration would wipe their phones, according to a letter Secret Service sent to the House select committee on July 19, 2022. The internal Secret Service notice made clear that employees were solely responsible for saving records that had to be preserved by law.
January 27, 2021: The Microsoft Intune phone migration begins, according to the agency’s July 19 letter to the House select committee.
February 26, 2021: DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari requests electronic communications from the Secret Service for the first time, according to agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. “DHS OIG requested electronic communications for the first time on Feb. 26, 2021, after the migration was well under way. The Secret Service notified DHS OIG of the loss of certain phones’ data, but confirmed to OIG that none of the texts it was seeking had been lost in the migration,” Guglielmi said in a July 14, 2022, statement.
March 25, 2021: House committee chairs send letters to the White House and numerous federal agencies seeking documents and communications relating to the January 6 attack. Among the agencies to receive a letter is the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service.
April 1, 2021: The Intune migration is completed, according to the agency’s letter.
May 2021: The Secret Service notifies the DHS inspector general of missing text messages related to the phone data migration issue, according to sources. The agency tells Cuffari’s office the Secret Service tried to contact a cellular provider to retrieve the texts when they realized they were lost, a source told CNN.
Key personnel at the Secret Service erroneously believed the data was backed up and didn’t realize it was permanently lost until after the data migration was completed, the source said.
June 11, 2021: The DHS inspector general requests text messages “sent or received by 24 Secret Service personnel during the period of December 7, 2020 through January 8, 2021.” CNN has previously reported that the heads of Trump’s and Pence’s security details are among the 24 individuals.
The Secret Service responded to the request by submitting a single text message. That message was from former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to former Secret Service Uniformed Division Chief Thomas Sullivan requesting assistance on January 6.
July 2021: A DHS deputy inspector general tells DHS that the inspector general’s office is no longer seeking the text messages from the Secret Service, according to two sources.
December 2021: The DHS inspector general reopens his inquiry into the Secret Service text messages. According to the letter House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney and Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson sent last week calling on Cuffari to recuse himself from the probe, the inspector general’s office was told by the Secret Service that text messages had been erased. A DHS source told CNN Cuffari’s office was again notified of the data loss.
January 28, 2022: The DHS inspector general’s office notifies its employees of an investigation into the DHS inspector general being led by the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency, the umbrella group for inspectors general. The probe is related to allegations of retaliation following an independent review of office culture.
February 2022: The Secret Service notifies the DHS inspector general a third time of the data migration issue, according to a DHS source.
In early February, according to reporting from the Washington Post, staff at Cuffari’s office planned to contact all DHS agencies offering to have data specialists help retrieve messages from their phones. But later that month, the Post reports that Cuffari’s office decided it would not collect or review any agency phones.
In late February, according to the Washington Post, Cuffari learned that text messages for the top two DHS officials under the Trump administration were missing, and that they had been lost in a reset of their government phones when they left their jobs in January 2021.
June 28, 2022: Former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testifies before the House select committee. She says that she was told about a heated altercation between former President Donald Trump and his Secret Service detail after Trump was told he could not travel to the Capitol on January 6. The testimony raises new questions about the Secret Service’s conduct on January 6.
July 14, 2022: Cuffari writes in a letter to the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees that the Department of Homeland Security notified his office “many US Secret Service text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, were erased as part of a device replacement program.”
July 19, 2022: The Secret Service responds to the House select committee by providing thousands of records. “Our delivery included thousands of pages of documents, Secret Service cell phone use and other policies, as well as operational and planning records,” Guglielmi said in a statement.
The agency also said that it was still taking steps to try to recover text messages, writing in a letter to the committee that it was looking at metadata to determine what messages might have been sent and interviewing the 24 Secret Service employees at issue.
Also on July 19, the National Archives sent a letter to DHS demanding a report documenting any improper deletion of text messages.
July 20, 2022: DHS deputy inspector general Gladys Ayala writes to the Secret Service informing the agency that the inspector general’s office is investigating the circumstances surrounding the possible deleted texts as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, as first reported by CNN. In the letter, the inspector general’s office directs the Secret Service to stop its own investigation, writing that it could interfere with the criminal probe.
Before that letter had been sent, the Secret Service had identified metadata indicating texts were sent or received on the phones of 10 of the 24 Secret Service employees around January 6, 2021, and the agency was seeking to determine whether they contained relevant information that should have been preserved, CNN reported.
July 26, 2022: Thompson and Maloney call for Cuffari to pass off the investigation into the text messages to another inspector general, questioning his ability to conduct the probe. The lawmakers write in a letter to Cuffari that his failure to notify Congress about the missing texts in a timely fashion “cast serious doubt on his independence and his ability to effectively conduct such an important investigation.”
July 28, 2022: Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the missing messages from the lead-up to January 6. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.