DHS begins criminal investigation over deleted Secret Service texts from January 6th

The Secret Service might have broken the law by deleting texts.

SETH HERALD/AFP via Getty Images

The Secret Service may face serious legal repercussions over deleted text messages relating to the January 6th, 2021 Capitol attack. NBC News sources said the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General has opened a criminal investigation into the deletion of texts from the days surrounding the riot. The Secret Service has been ordered to stop its own internal probes, according to a copy of a letter DHS Deputy Inspector General Gladys Ayala sent to the agency.

In a statement, the Secret Service acknowledged receiving Ayala's letter. It promised a "thorough legal review" to ensure it was "fully cooperative" with all oversight.

Word of the deleted texts came last week, when the Inspector General's office said that Secret Service texts from January 5th and 6th had been deleted as part of a "device replacement program." Agents were supposed to back up their messages before the migration, but it's not clear that happened. While the Secret Service told the House's January 6th committee that it was "currently unaware" of any lost messages, CNN reported, it also acknowledged that it was still trying to recover messages. The service hasn't provided more than a single message thread in response to a House committee subpoena.

It's not yet clear if the messages are recoverable, and there isn't any known evidence of malicious intent. Whatever the circumstances, there's a chance the Secret Service could face significant charges. House committee leaders Liz Cheney and Bennie Thompson warned that the service might have violated the Federal Records Act by failing to keep the messages. At the least, the investigation highlights the challenges and importance of preserving data in modern government — a botched migration could impact crucial proceedings.