No Trump-related investigation would be complete without an investigative thread hitting a seeming evidentiary dead end, due either to the utter incompetence of every senior official involved or a massive coverup and attempt to obstruct justice (or both). Now, in the aftermath of The Case of the Dangling Pardons from the Russia probe and The Case of the Inappropriate Use of a Codename Server from Trump’s first impeachment, we reach our first big mystery in the January 6th investigation: the apparent deletion of all of the Secret Service’s text messages related to January 6th. Actually, let me correct that: the apparent deletion of all but one text (as in, one singular text message) leading up to January 6th from relevant Secret Service employees. The sheer preposterousness of this actually having happened could only be more cartoonish if the January 6th Committee ultimately discovers that the person responsible is the Secret Service caretaker who has been running around the agency wearing a ghost costume.
So, fellow sleuths, let’s take a look at the case. One January 16th, ten days after the January 6th attack on Congress, four House committees sent a letter to the Secret Service, along with several other agencies, asking them to preserve all records related to January 6th. Eleven days later, on January 27th, the agency proceeded with a “preplanned data migration” that would wipe all employees’ phones of any data. The agency claims that two days before the migration, it sent a letter to all of its employees advising them that it was their responsibility to save any records that were required to be preserved by law and provided instructions on how to do that. It now appears that literally no one followed directions, and here we are.
Let’s pull the Mystery Machine over for a moment, because if you’re like me, your head is already hurting. So first of all, preservation requests for data and documents (typically pertaining to potential litigation) are not unusual, particularly for large organizations like corporations or universities. They normally trigger some routine internal legal mechanisms, where (at least in my experience), the general counsel’s office will identify individuals or departments that may be in possession of the relevant information and send them a sternly-worded email instructing them not to delete anything and to contact one of the office attorneys if there are issues or questions. One imagines that, in such an instance, an organization-wide data migration might be flagged as potentially problematic and either halted or delayed, or at least additional steps taken to ensure – at the senior organizational level – that the requested information isn’t lost or deleted.