The early January 2021 text messages of two top homeland security officials under the Trump administration are missing, according to reports by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan independent watchdog, and The Washington Post.
Messages between Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, the department’s top officials at the time, were lost “in a ‘reset’ of their government phones upon leaving office,” the newspaper said, citing a notification by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to the agency’s inspector general, in late February 2022.
According to the reports, DHS’ office of the department’s undersecretary of management also informed the inspector general’s office that text messages for Undersecretary Randolph “Tex” Alles, the office’s boss and the former Secret Service director, were no longer available.
The news follows revelations thaton January 27, 2021, in an agency-wide technology migration and have yet to be recovered.
Further, the DHS inspector general, Joseph Cuffari, was informed in February that these texts had been lost but did not inform Congress. The same month, Cuffari found out the Secret Service texts had been erased butuntil July.
“I complied with all data retention laws and returned all my equipment fully loaded to the Department,” Wolf wrote in a tweet, late Thursday. “Full stop. DHS has all my texts, emails, phone logs, schedules, etc.”
Cucinelli tweeted Friday, “DHS erased my phone after I left the department.”
The Department of Homeland Security has not responded to a request for comment.
U.S. Secret Service Director James Murray, vowing to “[use] this time to oversee and ensure our agency’s continued cooperation, responsiveness, and full support with respect to ongoing Congressional and other inquiries,” in an internal message to personnel.
“Not all federal records have to be preserved permanently, but when they’re created by leaders of agencies that pertain to government business, those are more likely to be the kinds of records you’d want to preserve for longer periods of time, potentially permanently,” Nick Schwellenbach, POGO Senior Investigator, who co-authored the report, told CBS News. “On its face, there’s a Federal Records Act violation even if there was no malicious intent here whatsoever. And the Department of Homeland Security really needs to get its act together in terms of its compliance with the Federal Records Act.”