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Secret Service was told at least once before Jan. 6, 2021, to preserve texts

Two emails, at least one before Jan. 6, told agency staffers to preserve records on their phones. A third in February 2021 told them to preserve communications specific to Jan. 6.
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A senior Secret Service official said agency employees received two emails — at least one prior to Jan. 6, 2021 — reminding them to preserve records on their cellphones, including text messages, before their devices were essentially “restored to factory settings” and texts were lost as part of a planned reset and replacement program across the agency.

The senior official said employees received a third email on Feb. 4, 2021, instructing them to preserve all communications specific to Jan. 6. At that point, several Congressional committees had asked for Secret Service communications from the day of the insurrection on the Capitol.

Last week the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot issued a subpoena for text messages by the Secret Service on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021. A source familiar with the matter told NBC News on Tuesday that the Secret Service does not have any additional text messages to hand over.

The first email about preserving records came on Dec. 9, 2020 from the Secret Service’s Office of Strategic Planning and the second was in January 2021 from the agency’s chief information officer, though the source didn't provide an exact date. Both emails included reminders that federal employees have the responsibility to preserve their records and included instructions on how to do so, the senior Secret Service official said.

Secret service agents stand near screens before President Joe Biden met virtually with independent farmers and ranches from the White House on Jan. 3, 2022.
Secret service agents stand near screens before President Joe Biden met virtually with independent farmers and ranchers from the White House on Jan. 3, 2022.Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images file

The first two emails did not specifically reference Jan. 6, according to the Secret Service official and another senior official within DHS. 

The Secret Service official said that by the time the Inspector General asked for the records more than a month after the attack on the Capitol, that information was already lost.

The exact date cellphone records were lost remains unclear. The timeline is under investigation by the National Archives.

At the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday evening, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised that the Secret Service would cooperate fully with inquiries from the Jan. 6 committee and others into what happened with the missing text messages. 

Asked by MSNBC correspondent Trymaine Lee whether he believes the texts were deleted by accident, Mayorkas said, “The migration was planned well before January 2021,” referring to a data migration that Secret Service has blamed for the deletions. “I think the facts will be disclosed and we will address the facts as they are learned, or continue to be learned, and we will learn from it.”