Senior leadership at the Secret Service confiscated the cellphones of 24 agents involved in the agency’s response to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol and handed them over to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, according to two sources with knowledge of the action.
The agency handed over the phones “shortly after” a July 19 letter was sent by Inspector General Joseph Cuffari’s office around the time he launched a criminal probe into the Secret Service’s missing text messages from Jan. 6, the sources said.
It is unclear what, if any, information the Office of Inspector General has been able to obtain from the cellphones.
The revelation that Cuffari’s office has had access to the phones since late July or August raises new questions about the progress of his criminal investigation into the missing text messages and what, if anything, the public may be able to learn about communications between agents on Jan. 6, 2021.
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.
But given that the phones belong to the agency, the source explained, the agents had little say in the matter.
Earlier in July, Cuffari had alerted Congress that his office was unable to obtain text messages from agents’ cellphones that it sought as part of its investigation into the Secret Service response to the insurrection. The Secret Service has said the texts were lost as part of a previously planned systems upgrade that essentially restored the phones to factory settings.
The content of texts sent by Secret Service agents on Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, attracted increased interest in June after former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the Jan. 6 select House committee that she’d heard secondhand that former President Donald Trump had 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.
A spokesperson for the Secret Service declined to comment about the confiscated phones. A spokesperson for the Inspector General’s Office said the agency does not “confirm the existence of or comment on criminal investigations“ in order to “protect the integrity of our work [and] preserve our independence.”
Some members of Congress and, most recently, some of Cuffari’s employees have called his leadership into question. In a letter obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and released Friday, anonymous staff within his office accused Cuffari of “significantly editing reports to remove key findings” and “interfering with staff efforts to gather information necessary to perform independent oversight.”
Cuffari, a former adviser to Republican Arizona governors Jan Brewer and Doug Ducey, was nominated by President Trump to become DHS inspector general and confirmed by the Senate in July 2019.