The US Homeland Security Department’s watchdog has opened an investigation into the loss of Secret Service text messages from the days around the January 6 attack on the Capitol last year.
The Inspector General of Homeland Security is conducting the inquiry and has told the Secret Service to stop its own internal investigation, a source said.
That further complicates the work of the House’s January 6 committee, which is wrapping up a series of televised hearings with a prime-time session on Thursday.
The committee is seeking missing text messages from 24 Secret Service employees related to January 5 and the day of the Capitol attack.
House January 6 panel chairman Bennie Thompson and vice chairwoman Liz Cheney issued a statement on Wednesday saying “every effort” must be made by the Secret Service to retrieve what the agency claims were inadvertently erased texts during an equipment upgrade that began on January 27, 2021.
Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that the agency received the Inspector General’s letter on the topic and told the House committee.
If investigators find evidence a crime was committed, the matter is typically referred to the Justice Department for prosecution. The Homeland Security investigation was earlier reported by NBC.
The committee has subpoenaed the texts for clues as to what happened that day, including reports of former president Donald Trump being blocked by agents from accompanying his supporters to the Capitol.
The texts could provide insight into that episode and security concerns surrounding then-vice president Mike Pence, who had gone to the Capitol to preside over the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Mr Guglielmi said the Secret Service would "conduct a thorough legal review to ensure we are fully co-operative with all oversight efforts and that they do not conflict with each other".
The agency has denied wrongdoing and said some data was lost when it reset its mobile phones to factory settings in January 2021, before the Inspector General’s inspection began the next month.
On Tuesday, the keeper of federal records asked the Secret Service to determine whether any text messages by agents around the time of the attack were improperly deleted.
The National Archives and Records Administration said in a letter to the agency that it must submit a report within 30 days, documenting what occurred.