The unprecedented criminal prosecution of Donald Trump and his associates has heavily relied on unprecedented steps taken by government officials including Joe Biden. For the first time in history, for just one example, an incumbent president refused to confer executive privilege to his predecessor on a number of occasions — which forced Trump to share what is traditionally considered protected communications and records with bad-faith interests including House Democrats and Biden's Department of Justice.
Federal courts played an instrumental role, too. Privilege between Trump and his personal attorney was pierced by the chief judge of the district court in Washington. Judge Tanya Chutkan, now overseeing Special Counsel Jack Smith's case against Trump related to January 6, denied Trump's privilege claims in 2021 and ordered Trump to hand over presidential records to the January 6 Select Committee. In another history-making order, Chutkan recently denied Trump's motion to dismiss the J6 case on immunity grounds; she opined that being president does not entitle one to a "get-out-of-jail-free pass" — an assertion made by no one — and concluded a president is indeed subject to criminal prosecution.
But the former president, his attorneys, and close associates are not the only individuals denied privilege protections by the Biden White House. In 2022, Richard Sauber, Biden's special counsel, informed the Department of Homeland Security that Biden would not shield Secret Service agents asked to testify before Congress.
While acknowledging that "no congressional committee has ever sought to compel the testimony of a Secret Service agent about [what] they saw or heard while performing protective functions," Sauber wrote that Biden nevertheless concluded that "an assertion of executive privilege is not in the national interest" as House Democrats continued their investigation into the events of January 6.
Throughout the committee's proceedings, members emphasized the role of the Secret Service before and on January 6 including the evacuation of Vice President Mike Pence and the alleged seizure of weapons outside the president's speech at the Ellipse.
Testimony by White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who accused Trump of attempting to take control of the presidential SUV and assault his lead Secret Service agent after they refused to take him to the Capitol after his speech, created the committee's most dramatic moment.
But nearly a year after the committee released their final report, transcribed interviews of several Secret Service officials remain missing from the public record. Further, in violation of House rules, those transcripts have not been furnished to a GOP-led committee now conducting a separate investigation into January 6 and the conduct of the now defunct select committee.
A senior congressional aide on Thursday told me that the DHS "is in possession of numerous transcripts taken by the committee that have not been turned over to House Republicans." Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), chairman of the oversight subcommittee for the House Administration Committee leading the multi-faceted inquiry, is demanding answers according to the source.
Loudermilk first learned of the missing transcripts after Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss), chairman of the select committee, sent a letter in June 2023 disclosing that the committee had "loaned" the transcripts to DHS. Thompson purportedly asked the agency for "assistance and guidance in the proper archiving of such sensitive material to protect witnesses' safety, national security, and to safeguard law enforcement operations."
Thompson forwarded the records to DHS in December 2022; days later, the committee automatically disbanded per its enabling legislation, taking the matter out of his hands, Thompson claimed:
"The Executive Branch was still conducting its review of that material to provide appropriate archiving guidance at the time the Select Committee dissolved. Accordingly, the Select Committee did not have the opportunity to properly archive that material with the rest of its records."(Thompson also disclosed the committee did not preserve video recordings of witness depositions, as I reported here.)
Thompson advised Loudermilk to take his complaints to the DHS, but the agency continues to stonewall the chairman's requests.
So, what is DHS hiding? Whose testimony is being concealed from both the American people and House Republicans?
If, as Biden insisted, unvarnished testimony by Secret Service is in the "national interest," where is it?
The committee's internet archive contains no transcribed interviews of Secret Service officials that the media reported had met with committee investigators. Notably missing is that of Robert Engel, the head of Trump's security detail who was interviewed by the committee in November 2022. Engel is the agent allegedly attacked by Trump on January 6, according to Hutchinson. But following Hutchinson's explosive account, several Secret Service officials, including Engel, told the media the confrontation never happened. It's safe to assume his interview would provide a direct contradiction to her account of what happened.
Even Hutchinson has since backpedaled on her story; Loudermilk obtained a 15-page document known as an "errata" that made major corrections to her sworn testimony.
Lost Interest in Lost Text Messages
But there's more than just missing Secret Service transcripts. Presumably thousands of texts belonging to two dozen Secret Service officials, including Engel and the director at the time, were deleted in late January 2021 after House Democrats notified executive agencies to preserve all Jan 6-related records — and after Biden appointees took over DHS.
In response to an internal investigation raising concerns about the purged messages covering the span between December 7, 2020 and January 8, 2021, a Secret Service spokesman disclosed the deletion was the result of "a pre-planned, three-month system migration...[and in] that process, data resident on some phones was lost."
The J6 committee subpoenaed the Secret Service in July 2022 to compel production of the deleted messages. A few days later, the agency informed the committee that the texts had not been found.
The Washington Post reported on July 19, 2022:
"Secret Service agents...were instructed to upload any old text messages involving government business to an internal agency drive before the reset, the senior official said, but many agents appear not to have done so. The result is that potentially valuable evidence — the real-time communications and reactions of agents who interacted directly with Trump or helped coordinate his plans before and during Jan. 6 — is unlikely to ever be recovered."But despite the government's access to the best technology, oddly, the texts remain missing. Media interest in what was initially a bombshell development has disappeared. And committee members never raise the matter.
Further, the new director of the Secret Service, Kimberly Cheatle, said in a 2022 interview that there was "nothing nefarious" about the purge and appeared unfazed. (Cheatle was the Secret Service's assistant director of protective operations on January 6 and Engel's boss. She reportedly testified to the J6 committee; her transcript has not been published. More on her in a future report.)
It is unclear if the internal DHS investigation is still underway.
The continued cover-up of key evidence produced by an illicit committee that cost taxpayers millions of dollars should be a scandal of epic proportions. This is in addition to ongoing efforts by the DOJ, federal judges, and Capitol police to prevent the release of taxpayer-funded security video and other crucial evidence that will contradict the official narrative of January 6.
But the concealment and destruction of records tied to one of the most trusted institutions in America is extremely disconcerting. If Loudermilk is successful in his ongoing efforts to shed light on the events of January 6 — and malfeasance by the J6 committee — the role of the Secret Service could be the most explosive of all.