August 1, 2022
Text messages for former President Donald Trump’s acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli are missing for a key period leading up to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to four people briefed on the matter and internal emails, reports The Washington Post.
This discovery of missing records for the senior-most homeland security officials, which has not been previously reported, increases the volume of potential evidence that has vanished regarding the time around the Capitol attack.
The Department of Homeland Security notified the agency’s inspector general in late February that Wolf’’s and Cuccinelli’s texts were lost in a “reset” of their government phones when they left their jobs in January 2021 in preparation for the new Biden Administration, according to an internal record obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with The Washington Post.
The office of the department’s undersecretary of management also told the government watchdog that the text messages for its boss, Undersecretary Randolph “Tex” Alles, the former Secret Service director, were also no longer available due to a previously planned phone reset.
The office of Inspector General Joseph Cuffari did not press the department leadership at that time to explain why they did not preserve these records, nor seek ways to recover the lost data, according to the four people briefed on the watchdog’s actions.
The revelation comes on the heels of the discovery that text messages of Secret Service agents—critical firsthand witnesses to the events leading up to January 6—were deleted more than a year ago and may never be recovered.v
The news of their missing records set off a firestorm because the texts could have corroborated the account of a former White House aide describing the president’s state of mind on January 6. In one case, the aide, Cassidy Hutchinson said a top official told her that Trump had tried to attack a senior Secret Service agent who refused to take the president to the Capitol with his supporters marching there.
In a early identical scenario to that of the DHS leaders’ texts, the Secret Service alerted Cuffari’s office seven months ago, in December 2021, that the agency had deleted thousands of agents’ and employees’ text messages in an agency-wide reset of government phones. Cuffari’s office did not notify Congress until mid-July, despite multiple congressional committees’ pending requests for these records.
The telephone and text communications of Wolf and Cuccinelli in the days leading up to January 6 could have shed considerable light on Trump’s actions and plans. In the weeks before the attack on the Capitol, Trump had been pressuring both men to help him claim the 2020 election results were rigged—and even to seize voting machines in key swing states to try to “re-run” the election.
“It is extremely troubling that the issue of deleted text messages related to the January 6 attack on the Capitol is not limited to the Secret Service, but also includes Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, who were running DHS at the time,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson said in a statement.
“It appears the DHS Inspector General has known about these deleted texts for months but failed to notify Congress,” Thompson said. “If the Inspector General had informed Congress, we may have been able to get better records from Senior administration officials regarding one of the most tragic days in our democracy’s history.”
Neither Cuccinelli nor Wolf responded to requests for comment. DHS’s Office of Inspector General did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The discovery of missing records for the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security during the final days of the Trump Administration raises new questions about what could have been learned, and also about what other text messages and evidence the department and other agencies may have erased, in apparent violation of the Federal Records Act.
Research contact: @washingtonpost