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Crucial texts between Trump and top DHS officials leading up to Jan. 6 deleted [Updated]

Former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
Enlarge / Former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

“Protestors are literally storming the Capitol. Breaking windows on doors. Rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?”

This text from White House correspondent Michael D. Shear to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is one of thousands preserved from the January 6 attack on the Capitol showing that when the trouble started, people with power immediately turned to their phones to do what they could to stop it.

There are many more deleted texts, though, that would have shown how former President Donald Trump acted before the attack and how he responded to urgent requests to de-escalate the violence in the middle of it. First, the Secret Service confirmed in December 2021 that thousands of their texts were deleted in an agency-wide phone reset. Now, The Washington Post reports that senior Department of Homeland Security officials—acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli—also lost text messages from that day, blaming a government phone reset that happened during the transition to the Biden administration in January 2021.

“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 (D-MS) said in a statement.

Thompson also noted that DHS took its time notifying Congress of the missing records.

“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.”

DHS’s Office of Inspector General, Cuccinelli, and Wolf did not immediately respond to the Post’s or Ars’ requests for comment. (Update: A spokesperson confirmed that the Office of Inspector General does not comment on ongoing investigations.)

Cuccinelli tweeted critically about The Washington Post report, though. He tweeted out a text from a friend that said, “Even when you follow the rules Ken Cuccinelli you [sic] obviously you do it for nefarious reasons!”

“Some of you may have noticed that my name cropped up on more Jan. 6th stuff,” Cuccinelli tweeted. “This time the fact that DHS erased my phone after I left the department,” he wrote. “I got the following text from a friend that I thought was hilarious enough to share: ‘Congratulations. The Washington Post is going after you for handing in your government phone just like you were supposed to do and having a [sic] erased by security personnel you no longer supervised as part of standard procedure you did not develop.’”

Wolf also responded by tweet: “I complied with all data retention laws and returned all my equipment fully loaded to the Department. Full stop. DHS has all my texts, emails, phone logs, schedules, etc. Any issues with missing data needs to be addressed to DHS. To imply otherwise is lazy reporting.”

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