A time-honored Washington axiom holds that one should never attribute to scandal what could be explained by garden-variety incompetence. In the case of the Secret Service’s mysteriously missing text messages, however, mere ineptitude doesn’t quite fit the facts.
When a violent mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 of last year, Secret Service agents played a key role. They had to defend Vice President Mike Pence as protesters threatened his life. They also had to guard President Donald Trump even as he stirred up the crowd and tried to join their march. According to news reports, the agency had even been warned ahead of time about impending violence. On Jan. 16, Congress told the Department of Homeland Security — the service’s parent agency — to preserve any records related to the attack.
Evidently the message didn’t quite get through. On Tuesday, the agency told a House committee that most of its agents’ texts from that day have been deleted. Although it had been asked by the DHS’s inspector general to turn over mobile records from 24 individuals, it has so far managed to dig up just one (1) relevant text conversation. By law, federal agencies are generally required to collect and store all such data, including texts, chat logs and instant messages.