Jan. 6: Secret Service reportedly deleted texts from Jan. 5 and 6 after subpoena. Report finds “systemic failures” in police response to Uvalde shooting. Tensions remain after Biden meeting with Saudi Prince.
Jan. 6: Secret Service reportedly deleted texts from Jan. 5 and 6 after subpoena
In a letter to the Congressional homeland security committees, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security claims that members of the Secret Service deleted their texts from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, after the Jan. 6 select committee had subpoenaed them. The Secret Service denies that their members deleted these texts to evade the subpoena. Instead, they maintain that some texts were deleted long ago and that others were lost in a “device-replacement program”.
Whatever the case, this oversight failure is only the latest in a string of worrisome revelations about the Secret Service and its parent agency DHS.
Back in March reports surfaced that, as early as Dec. 21, 2020, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) had been monitoring threats of violence to occur on Jan. 6. These included specific threats to kill protesters and government officials, as well as tactical maps of D.C. and the Capitol grounds. I&A made no attempt to share its concerns with law enforcement or other relevant officials until Jan. 5. That report was not even approved and released until two days after the riot.
However, I&A officials were trading communications amongst themselves, joking about the prospect of Democratic politicians being hanged.
DHS targeted journalists, protected far-right militants
Intelligence and Analysis found itself in the spotlight previously in 2020. First, in the summer of 2020, leaked documents revealed that I&A officials had been compiling files on journalists who were covering the George Floyd protests. Later, an I&A whistleblower came forward claiming that the acting heads of DHS had pressured analysts to downplay intelligence concerning threats of violence from far-right groups and to instead focus on bolstering Trump’s claims of dangerous left-wing organizations. At the time, Trump loyalists Chad Wolff and Ken Cuccinelli were the acting Secretary and Deputy Secretary of DHS, respectively. Cuccinelli also famously promised to ban sodomy during his unsuccessful campaign to become governor of Virginia.
Jan. 6 involvement
The key to understanding the role members of the Secret Service played in the planning of the attempted coup on Jan. 6 lies with Tony Ornato. Ornato was himself a member of the Secret Service and head of Trump’s security detail until Dec. 2019. At that point, Trump appointed him Deputy Chief of Staff, an unprecedented step up for a Secret Service agent. In his new position, Ornato oversaw security matters at the White House.
During the riot on the 6th, Vice President Pence and others were removed to secure locations near or within the Capitol grounds. Ornato reportedly wanted to remove Pence from the Capitol altogether. Pence, however, insisted on staying put. Ornato allegedly told Pence’s national security adviser Keith Kellogg that he wanted to remove Pence to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Kellogg reportedly said to Ornato, “You can’t do that, Tony. Leave him where he’s at. He’s got a job to do. I know you guys too well. You’ll fly him to Alaska if you have a chance. Don’t do it”.
Had Ornato gotten his way and removed Pence to Maryland, or even further afield, Trump’s goal of blocking the certification of the 2020 election results would have been accomplished. Kellogg’s words to Ornato seem to indicate that Kellogg’s suspicions that Ornato and perhaps other members of the White House security detail had just such an outcome in mind.
A spokesperson for the Secret Service has denied that Ornato had any involvement in Pence’s movements on the 6th. Ornato has denied having several crucial conversations reported by multiple high-ranking members of the Trump White House, with some outright calling Ornato a liar. Ornato remains a high-ranking member of the Secret Service, currently serving as assistant director of the Secret Service’s Office of Training.
The 8th and possibly final public hearing of the Jan. 6 committee is set to take place this Thursday, July 21, during prime time, though these schedules are always subject to change. Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) told ABC that following the reporting about the deletions from the DHS Inspector General, the Secret Service reached out to the committee denying the allegations and saying that they will comply with the subpoena. Lofgren says the committee expects to have the relevant texts by Tuesday, July 19. It’s not clear what texts the Secret Service has or how they were preserved or recovered. Lofgren says the texts are necessary to get “the full picture” of what happened on Jan. 6.
This week’s hearing will focus on Trump’s actions and other goings on in the White House on the day of the 6th.
Report finds “systemic failures” in police response to Uvalde shooting
A committee of state legislators in Texas has released the report of their investigation into the Uvalde school shooting. The report found “systemic failures” in the police response to the shooting. In particular, the report blames a lack of leadership and a “lackadaisical approach” to the shooting for allowing a gunman to rampage inside two classrooms for 77 minutes. Ultimately, the 18-year-old shooter killed 19 children and two teachers as about two dozen police officers stood in the hallway.
The report found that nearly 400 police officers responded to the shooting, many from surrounding areas. Videos circulated after the shooting of the hundreds of police officers with military grade weapons and heavy protective gear standing outside the school. Rather than attempting to enter the school to stop the shooter, these officers stood outside preventing unarmed parents and community members from entering the school. In at least one instance, police pepper sprayed a distraught onlooker and tackled him to the sidewalk.
Despite pointing to a lack of leadership, the report did not single out any particular official as being responsible for the failures that day. Following a public outcry from citizens, the Chief of the Uvalde School District police Pete Arredondo finally resigned weeks after the incident. Arredondo has claimed that he didn’t know he was in charge of the scene when he turned up.
Tensions remain after Biden meeting with Saudi Crown Prince
Over the weekend, President Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia in his first official visit since taking office. Previously, Biden had pledged to make Saudi Arabia, and in particular its Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) a “pariah” over an abysmal human rights record. But following chaos in the oil markets due to the war in Ukraine, Biden relented his former rejection of talks with MBS in hopes that Saudi Arabia might increase its oil production.
One of the key points of tension between the two leaders is the finding by US intelligence that MBS approved the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khasshoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Accounts differ over whether Biden addressed Khasshoggi’s murder during his meeting with MBS. A Saudi minister who was present at the meeting said he did not hear Biden say that he blamed MBS for the assassination. Biden flatly denied the Saudi minister’s version of events.
Another account alleges that during the meeting, MBS taunted Biden for caring more about Khasshoggi’s death than the death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Witnesses to Akleh’s death claim that she was targeted by Israeli forces. Akleh’s family has asked the US to investigate her death. US officials have so far rejected this plea, despite concluding publicly that Akleh most likely died at the hands of the Israeli military.
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