The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General has opened a criminal investigation into the Secret Service's destruction of text messages sent the day of and before the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
"This is to notify you that the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General has an ongoing investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the collection and preservation of evidence by the United States Secret Service as it relates to the events of January 6, 2021," DHS Deputy Inspector General Gladys Ayala wrote in a letter to Secret Service Director James Murray on Wednesday night.
"To ensure the integrity of our investigation, the USSS must not engage in any further investigative activities regarding the collection and preservation of the evidence referenced above," the deputy inspector general continued. "This includes immediately refraining from interviewing potential witnesses, collecting devices, or taking any other action that would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation."
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed a complaint earlier this week asking the U.S. Justice Department to launch "an immediate and full investigation into whether Secret Service employees willfully destroyed federal records," welcomed news of the inspector general's criminal probe.
While the Secret Service has claimed that texts from last January 5 and 6 were erased as "part of a device replacement program," the inspector general has emphasized that the messages were deleted after DHS oversight officials requested them to aid their assessment of the deadly insurrection incited by former President Donald Trump.
The Secret Service acknowledged its receipt of the inspector general's letter, which comes as the House committee investigating the January 6 attack is attempting to recover the agency's missing electronic communications—with limited success so far.
"We have informed the January 6th select committee of the inspector general's request and will conduct a thorough legal review to ensure we are fully cooperative with all oversight efforts and that they do not conflict with each other," the Secret Service said in a statement.
A Secret Service official said the letter "raises some legal complexities," NBC News reported Thursday after speaking with two unnamed sources.
While the inspector general has asked the Secret Service to cease all internal inquires amid the watchdog's criminal probe, the agency also faces a subpoena from the House January 6 committee and a request for information from the National Archives.
According to CNN, which reviewed the letter: "The inspector general wrote that the Secret Service should explain what interviews had already been conducted related to the text messages, along with the 'scope off the questioning, and what, if any, warnings were given to the witness(es).' The inspector general told the Secret Service to respond by Monday."
The results of the inspector general's probe could be referred to federal prosecutors, the outlet noted. The Justice Department declined to comment on the letter's reference to an "ongoing criminal investigation."
The January 6 panel is set to hold a public hearing Thursday at 8:00 pm ET.