According to a memo acquired by NBC News, WASHINGTON Secret Service agents requested the agency for a record of all of the conversations taken from their personal smartphones as part of investigations into the events of January 6, 2021, but were rejected.
The request, in which agents claimed the Privacy Act to demand more information about what had been shared from their personal devices, was denied by the Secret Services office that deals with such requests, the Freedom of Information Act Program.
The request was made at the beginning of August, shortly after it became known that the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general and Congress were both interested in seeing text messages that Secret Service officers had deleted as part of what the organization claimed was a planned upgrade.
According to the letter, dated last Wednesday, “this letter is the final response to your Privacy Act inquiry that was submitted on August 4, 2022 for information regarding the release of personal cell phone information and/or other personally identifiable information (PII) by the U.S. Secret Service.”
The letter went on to say that the agency had decided that the regulation did not call for a records disclosure accounting to be made in conjunction with your request.
The agents’ attempt to obtain information about the records that were seized through a FOIA request and the subsequent denial of the request highlight a conflict between the leadership of the Secret Service and the agency’s rank-and-file agents regarding which communications should be shared with investigators.
Prior to this, NBC News reported that 24 cellphones were taken from Secret Service agents who were involved in the response to the uprising at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 by Secret Service leadership.
Some agents were unhappy that their leaders were rushing to seize the phones without consulting them, according to a person familiar with the cellphone seizure who previously spoke to NBC News.
The letter also poses important issues regarding any contacts that congressional and inspector generals investigators may have regarding the Secret Service. While it is assumed that the text messages cannot be recovered, additional communications, including emails and texts made on mobile devices, may be under examination and offer new insight into the agency’s response.
Secret Service officials chose not to comment.
After former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified before a 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 uprising, the content of texts Secret Service agents sent on Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, attracted more attention in June. Trump has denied charging the agent.
The most recent evidence came from a far-right Oath Keepers member who testified in court that Stewart Rhodes, the group’s leader, had contact with at least one Secret Service agent prior to the Jan. 6 uprising. For their roles in the Capitol attack, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers were charged with sedition and entered a not guilty plea.