WASHINGTON — Secret Service agents asked the agency for a record of all of the communications seized from their personal cellphones as part of investigations into the events of Jan. 6, 2021, but were rebuffed, according to a document reviewed by NBC News.
The Secret Service’s office that handles such requests, the Freedom of Information Act Program, denied the request, in which agents invoked the Privacy Act to demand more information about what had been shared from their personal devices.
The request was made in early August, just after news came to light that both Congress and the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general were interested in obtaining text messages of Secret Service agents that had been erased as part of what the agency said was a planned upgrade.
“This letter is the final response to your Privacy Act inquiry submitted on Aug. 4, 2022, for information pertaining to the release of personal cell phone information and/or other personal identifiable information (PII) by the U.S. Secret Service,” said the letter, dated last Wednesday.
“The agency has determined that regulation does not require a records disclosure accounting to be made in connection with your request,” the letter continued.
The agents’ effort to find out through an FOIA request what records were seized and the subsequent denial of the request underscore a tension between rank-and-file Secret Service agents and the agency’s leadership over what communications should be shared with investigators.
NBC News previously reported that two sources with knowledge of the action said Secret Service leadership seized 24 cellphones from agents involved with the response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
A source familiar with the cellphone seizure told NBC News previously that some agents were upset that their leaders were quick to confiscate the phones without their input.
The letter also raises key questions about what Secret Service communications both congressional and inspector general’s investigators may have. While the text messages are believed to be unrecoverable, other communications, such as those sent on personal phones and emails, may be under review and could shed new light on the agency’s response.
The Secret Service declined to comment.
The content of texts Secret Service agents sent on Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, attracted increased interest in June after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the House Jan. 6 committee that she had heard secondhand that former President Donald Trump lunged at a Secret Service agent when he refused to drive Trump’s car toward the Capitol during the insurrection. Trump has denied lunging at the agent.
Most recently, a member of the far-right Oath Keepers group testified in court that the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, was in communication with at least one Secret Service agent before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Rhodes and other Oath Keepers have been charged with and pleaded not guilty to sedition for their roles in the attack on the Capitol.