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Secret Service turned over phones of agents involved in Jan. 6 response to DHS watchdog

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Posted at 1:10 PM, Sep 27, 2022

The U.S. Secret Service handed over the cellphones of two dozen agents involved in the agency's response to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over the summer, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

The agency turned the phones over in July as part of an investigation launched by DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari into missing Secret Service text messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021. The agents' text messages were previously subpoenaed by the inspector general and the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot. NBC News was the first to report the Secret Service had handed over the cellphones to the inspector general.

The list of Secret Service personnel whose phones were subpoenaed includes former Secret Service Director James Murray; Deputy Director Faron Paramore; Robert Engel, the lead on former President Donald Trump's security detail; former Uniform Division Chief Thomas Sullivan; and former assistant director, and now director, Kimberly Cheatle.

Cuffari has said the Secret Service erased the texts from Jan. 5 and 6 as a part of a device-replacement program, after the inspector general's office requested records from the agency. The inspector general asked the Secret Service to halt its internal investigation into the apparently deleted text messages to avoid impeding his office's own investigation.

While U.S. government watchdogs routinely investigate activity that might be criminal, they lack the authority to initiate a criminal prosecution. If the DHS inspector general uncovers evidence of criminal activity during the probe of the Secret Service's missing text messages, he could refer the matter to the Justice Department, which ultimately determines whether or not to bring charges.

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot is holding what may be its final hearing on Wednesday.