A memo detailing how federal investigators believed the Secret Service was impeding them from obtaining key information about the agency’s response to January 6, 2021, was significantly altered to remove reference to nearly all those efforts before a final report was presented to lawmakers in June.
The memo’s original language contained detailed descriptions from the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s office of the multiple ways the Secret Service stalled the watchdog’s investigation into the agency’s actions before and during the Capitol riot, including erasing text messages from that day.
“Secret Service has resisted OIG’s oversight activities and delayed the results of its review by regularly indicating they will not provide documents directly to OIG without first conducting an internal review,” according to a draft memo from April, which was obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with CNN.
That language was eventually scrapped and replaced with two sentences containing a brief reference to challenges investigators faced in obtaining information. The final version of a report updating lawmakers on the OIG’s progress in its January 6 review was issued in June, about one month before DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari complained to Congress that the Secret Service and DHS were blocking access to records.
It’s unclear why the more fulsome descriptions of those roadblocks were not included in the final report Cuffari sent to Congress.
In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the Secret Service said the agency is “cooperating fully with all of the inquiries into the events that occurred on January 6, 2021.” The DHS IG did not respond to a request for comment.
A source familiar with the investigation told CNN that in some cases, the Secret Service and its parent agency, DHS, must do a national security and executive privilege review to ensure that applicable information would be protected under those exemptions.
The original memo included detailed claims by the watchdog’s investigators about problems gaining timely access to Secret Service documents and information, including missing text messages that were lost as part of a data migration.
“On multiple occasions, when documents were finally produced after upwards of a month, they contained redactions,” the draft memo said. “Although OIG’s follow-up eventually yielded unredacted documents, in each instance, these hurdles regularly resulted in avoidable delay.”
The timing and the detail of the memo raise more questions about Cuffari’s seemingly impromptu July letter to lawmakers that briefly mentioned the loss of text messages from the Secret Service and challenges in obtaining DHS records.
Cuffari has come under significant fire in recent weeks for his handling of the investigation, including an email sent in the summer of 2021 telling DHS that Cuffari’s investigators had stopped looking for the missing text messages. The contents of that email were first reported by CNN last month.
The draft memo also said OIG investigators renewed the request for missing Secret Service text messages in February 2022, a year after the initial request for records.
“Secret Service claimed inability to extract text message content due to an April 2021 mobile phone system migration,” the draft language said. “Secret Service caused significant delay by not clearly communicating this highly relevant information at the outset of its exchanges with OIG during this reporting period. Moreover, Secret Service has not explained why it did not preserve the texts prior to the migration.”
CNN has previously reported Secret Service lost text messages in data migration that began January 27, 2021, roughly a month before the OIG issued its first request for records. The data migration ended in April, 2021.
A source has told CNN the Secret Service told the Inspector General’s Office as early as May 2021, about the loss of text messages due to the data migration.
Despite the detailed draft language, the final version of the semiannual report issued in mid-June said only that during “the previous reporting period, [OIG] included information about Secret Service’s significant delay of OIG’s access to Secret Service Records, impeding the progress of [OIG’s] January 6, 2021 review.”
The report said investigators were continuing to “discuss the issue” with the Secret Service.
House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson have demanded Cuffari recuse himself from the investigation into the Secret Service and hand it over to a fellow Inspector General, citing other examples of draft language that was eventually changed to suggest a higher level of cooperation from DHS agencies which they say may illustrate a coverup.
This story has been updated