(Bloomberg) -- A Republican House member from New York said missing or destroyed US Secret Service text messages could be “a critical piece of the puzzle” for the House investigators looking into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
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John Katko, who voted for former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment, said during an appearance Friday on “Bloomberg Balance of Power with David Westin” that it’s too early to determine the importance of any missing communications.
“You’ve got to find out if the evidence existed, and that if it was destroyed --who destroyed it and why?” said Katko, a former prosecutor who is the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.
“It’s certainly something that needs to be looked into because I think it’s a critical piece of the puzzle,” Katko said.
Meanwhile, a Democrat on the House panel investigating the riot said that several Secret Service members have hired private lawyers to guide them as they face questioning by the committee.
Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, told CNN Thursday that Trump’s deputy White House Chief of Staff Tony Ornato and Trump’s former Secret Service lead agent Robert Engel, as well as the driver of the vehicle that took Trump from his rally preceding the riot, have hired private lawyers, choosing not to rely on agency provided counsel.
Another committee member, Republican Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, suggested on CNN Friday that may slow the investigation. “Now all of the sudden you have these Secret Service members lawyering up and not coming in and talking to us,” he said.
Secret Service Director James Murray said in a statement Friday that the agency is “finalizing dates and times” for its personnel to be available to the committee for follow up inquiries.
“We have provided thousands of documents, operationally sensitive radio transmissions and access to Secret Service employees,” Murray said. “We will continue to cooperate fully with the Committee and any other investigative body and remain committed to helping ensure that another such lawless and violent assault on our Constitutional process never takes place again.”
In addition to the House committee inquiry, the Homeland Security Department’s watchdog has opened an investigation into the loss of Secret Service text messages from the days surrounding the attack the attack on the US Capitol last year.
That has further clouded efforts by the House committee to obtain information about what the agency says are missing or erased messages from the employees related to Jan. 5, and the day of the insurrection.
The committee is seeking the texts as it looks into reports that Trump had to be blocked by Secret Service agents from traveling with supporters to the Capitol on Jan. 6, as well as security concerns regarding then-Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding that day of Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Katko, who is not running for re-election this fall, said destroyed evidence is “always a concern when you are a prosecutor. “If that can be proven, judges in court cases can sometimes instruct “that negative inferences” can be drawn from that.
“There seems to be some conflicting reports” about what exactly has happened, he said.
(Updates with Secret Service comment beginning in eighth paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the day of the lawmaker’s comment and role of agents in paragraph six.)
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