Back in July, news began to trickle out that texts sent by former top Trump administration officials and dozens of Secret Service staffers from around the time of the January 6 insurrection had gone missing. It was, agencies said, all the result of what they described as a series of phone wipes and a mismanaged data transfer project.
The situation was further complicated by what critics have called poor oversight by the Department of Homeland Security’s federal watchdog, Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, who members of Congress have criticized for waiting months to disclose that the Secret Service information was missing, and that the correspondence of former top DHS staffers such as Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli had also been erased. While texts were also erased at the Department of Defense, DHS has become a particular flashpoint because of the centrality of the Secret Service to lingering questions about that day.
Below is a timeline of events in the DHS scandal from the insurrection onward — including some of the inconsistencies in various agencies’ accounting of what occurred.
Jan. 6, 2021
More than 2,000 Trump-supporting protesters attack the Capitol complex after the then-president speaks at the Ellipse in Washington, D.C.
Jan. 16, 2021
Four House committee chairs request “all documents or materials that refer or relate to events that could or ultimately did transpire on January 6” from several agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.
Jan. 25, 2021
The United States Secret Service instructs personnel to back up their phones’ data onto an internal drive, according to the Washington Post, and provides them with a step-by-step guide, but also states that employees were “responsible for appropriately preserving government records that may be created via text messaging.”
Jan. 27, 2021
Secret Service begins data migration to move all devices to Microsoft Intune, a mobile device management service.
Feb. 26, 2021
DHS’s Office of Inspector General requests that the Secret Service provide all text messages sent and received by 24 Secret Service personnel between December 7, 2020, and January 8, 2021.
March 25, 2021
Six House committee chairs request documents including communications “received, prepared, or sent” between January 5 and 7 from several federal agencies, including DHS.
The Secret Service informs the Office of Inspector General that they tried to contact the cellular service provider to retrieve the text messages because they realized that they had been lost.
July 27, 2021
Deputy Inspector General for Inspections and Evaluations Thomas Kait sends an email to Jim Crumpacker, senior liaison official at DHS, telling him to stop looking for the text messages: “Jim, please use this email as a reference to our conversation where I said we no longer request phone records and text messages from the USSS relating to the events on January 6th.”
Aug. 11, 2021
The House Jan. 6 Select Committee joins requests by other House committee heads for more documents.
Aug. 25, 2021
The Jan. 6 Select Committee issues a request for “all documents and communications relating to actual or attempted conversations between any DHS official and President Trump and/or any other White House official on January 5 – 6, 2021, relating to the January 5 rally, and/or the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.”
Oct. 7, 2021
Inspector General Joseph Cuffari notifies other inspectors general in an email that his office is facing pushback from within the department for seeking relevant records from January 6, and that DHS employees were reportedly told not to comply. “We have received communication from DHS employees that they have been directed not to comply with our requests,” The Intercept reported, citing a copy of the letter it reviewed.
Oct. 18, 2021
Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency vice chairman and Department of the Interior Inspector General Mark Greenblatt followed up with Cuffari, according to the Intercept: “Just checking in to see whether things have improved regarding your access issues? Let me know if we at CIGIE can help in any way.”
Cuffari responds, according to the Intercept: “DHS OIG carefully documented concerns we had about our access to DHS’ January 6 events at the Capitol documents. I am pleased that we have been able to work through those issues. As I may have mentioned, we are nonetheless issuing a management alert and more formally documenting the concerns in our SAR [semiannual report].”
Nov. 29, 2021
The DHS’s Office of Inspector General issues a 50-page semiannual report to Congress covering April 1 to Sep. 30 of that year, stating that the DHS “significantly delayed the OIG’s access to Department records, thereby impeding the progress of the OIG’s review’ related to January 6.”
Dec. 3, 2021
The OIG renews its request to DHS for text messages from the Secret Service employees and former Trump officials.
Feb. 4, 2022
Deputy Inspector General Kait circulates a draft of a memo to DHS that reads, in part: “To date, most DHS components have not provided the requested information. Text message content is a critical source of information for the DHS OIG review.”
Feb. 10, 2022
A final version of the internal DHS memo is circulated that does not include the line about text messages. “On December 17, 2021, we received a timely and consolidated response from each component to our December 3, 2021 request,” it reads, “however, additional and clarifying information is needed before we can complete the reviews.”
House Oversight Committee chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) suggested in a letter to Cuffari that Kait had worked to remove the text.
June 14, 2022
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sends Congress another semiannual report from the OIG. In the accompanying letter, he says that many of the records produced “required discussion.”
July 13, 2022
Cuffari sends a letter to Congress informing members that the text exchanges from the Secret Service had been erased, save for one exchange between Secret Service Uniformed Division Chief Thomas Sullivan and then-Capitol Police Chief Steven A. Sund.
July 14, 2022
Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi issues a statement saying the agency “began to reset its mobile phones to factory settings as part of a pre-planned, three-month system migration. In that process, data resident on some phones was lost.”
July 15, 2022
The Jan. 6 committee subpoenas the Secret Service for the missing text message records.
July 20, 2022
DHS Deputy Inspector General Gladys Ayala sends USSS Director James Murray a letter instructing him to halt the Secret Service’s internal investigation into how the phone records were purged.
“To ensure the integrity of our investigation, the U.S.S.S. must not engage in any further investigative activities regarding the collection and preservation of the evidence referenced above,” she writes. “This includes immediately refraining from interviewing potential witnesses, collecting devices or taking any other action that would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.”
July 21, 2022
Secret Service spokesman Guglielmi confirms to the New York Times that the inspector general escalated its investigation to “assess any criminality.”
July 26, 2022
House committee chairs send IG Cuffari a letter questioning why he didn’t alert Congress to the missing texts sooner, noting that he’d first learned of them from the USSS as early as early as May 2021.
Aug. 1, 2022
House committee chairs send another letter asking about Deputy IG Kait’s decision, in July 2021, to inform the Secret Service it was no longer requesting phone records. They once again ask IG Cuffari to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation.
Aug. 8, 2022
IG Cuffari responds to several letters from Congress demanding explanations for discrepancies in his office’s description of its investigation. He refuses to recuse himself from the investigation, and to allow his staff to testify.
Aug. 16, 2022,
House committee chairs again demand that IG Cuffari produce documents and testimony explaining why DHS erased the texts after January 6.