The Washington Post

Jan. 6 texts missing for Trump Homeland Security’s Wolf and Cuccinelli

- BY CAROL D. LEONNIG AND MARIA SACCHETTI

Text messages for former President Donald Trump’s acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli are missing for a key period leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, according to four people briefed on the matter and internal emails.

This discovery of missing records for the senior-most homeland security officials, which has not been previously reported, increases the volume of potential evidence that has vanished regarding the time around the Capitol attack.

It comes as both congressio­nal and criminal investigat­ors at the Justice Department seek to piece together an effort by the president and his allies to overturn the results of the election, which culminated in a pro-trump rally that became a violent riot in the halls of Congress.

The Department of Homeland Security notified the agency’s inspector general in late February that Wolf ’s and Cuccinelli’s texts were lost in a “reset” of their government phones when they left their jobs in January 2021 in preparatio­n for the new Biden administra­tion, according to an internal record obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with The Washington Post.

The office of the department’s undersecre­tary of management also told the government watchdog that the text messages for its boss, undersecre­tary Randolph “Tex” Alles, the former Secret Service director, were also no longer available due to a previously planned phone reset.

The office of Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari did not press the department leadership at that time to explain why they did not preserve these records, nor seek ways to recover the lost data, according to the four people briefed on the watchdog’s actions. Cuffari also failed to alert Congress to the potential destructio­n of government records.

The revelation comes on the heels of the discovery that text messages of Secret Service agents — critical firsthand witnesses to the events leading up to Jan. 6 — were deleted more than a year ago and may never be recovered.

The news of their missing records set off a firestorm because the texts could have corroborat­ed the account of a former White House aide describing the president’s state of mind on Jan. 6. In one case, the aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, said a top official told her that Trump had tried to attack a senior Secret Service agent who refused to take the president to the Capitol with his supporters marching there.

In a nearly identical scenario to that of the DHS leaders’ texts, the Secret Service alerted Cuffari’s office seven months ago, in December 2021, that the agency had deleted thousands of agents’ and employees’ text messages in an agency-wide reset of government phones. Cuffari’s office did not notify Congress until mid-july, despite multiple congressio­nal committees’ pending requests for these records.

The telephone and text communicat­ions of Wolf and Cuccinelli in the days leading up to Jan. 6 could have shed considerab­le light on Trump’s actions and plans. In the weeks before the attack on the Capitol, Trump had been pressuring both men to help him claim the 2020 election results were rigged and even to seize voting machines in key swing states to try to “re-run” the election.

“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 said in a statement.

“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.”

Neither Cuccinelli nor Wolf responded to requests for comment. DHS’S Office of Inspector General did not immediatel­y respond to requests for comment.

The discovery of missing records for the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security during the final days of the Trump administra­tion raises new questions about what could have been learned, and also about what other text messages and evidence the department and other agencies may have erased, in apparent violation of the Federal Records Act.

Wolf and Cuccinelli had remained at DHS as Trump openly challenged the 2020 election results, even though the agency led efforts to help state and local government­s safeguard the integrity of the election results.

Starting in late December, numerous DHS intelligen­ce units across the country were warning of extremely worrisome chatter in white nationalis­t and pro-trump social media platforms that were promoting coming armed to Trump’s Jan. 6 rally and using violence to block Biden from becoming president.

In late December, Trump railed in a Cabinet meeting that his secretarie­s were failing to properly help him investigat­e fraud that had corruptly “given” the election to Joe Biden, but cited unsubstant­iated claims. Trump fired Christophe­r Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecur­ity and Infrastruc­ture Security Agency, in a tweet after Krebs countered Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud, and complained that Wolf should have moved faster to force Krebs out.

On New Year’s Eve of 2020, Trump also called Cuccinelli to pressure him to seize voting machines in swing states and help him block the peaceful transfer of power. Trump falsely told him that the acting attorney general had just said that it was Cuccinelli’s job to seize voting machines “and you’re not doing your job.”

Cuccinelli was in Washington on the day of the attack and toured the Capitol that night to survey the damage. Wolf was on an official trip to the Middle East.

After the Capitol attack, several lawmakers called for hearings into why DHS had failed to anticipate the threat Trump supporters posed to Congress on the day lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence planned to certify the election results.

Wolf had resigned five days after the attack on the Capitol, and cited “recent events” as well as legal rulings questionin­g his legitimacy to continue leading the department as an acting secretary for 14 months.

“Effective 11:59 p.m. today, I am stepping down as your Acting Secretary,” Wolf wrote in a message to the department. “I am saddened to take this step, as it was my intention to serve the Department until the end of this Administra­tion.”

 ?? JABIN Botsford/the Washington POST ?? Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf in 2020. He and Cuccinelli stayed at DHS as Trump challenged the election results.
JABIN Botsford/the Washington POST Acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf in 2020. He and Cuccinelli stayed at DHS as Trump challenged the election results.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States