Jan. 6 hearing raises new questions about Secret Service, Pence's safety

The agency is under fire over deleted text messages related to Jan. 6, 2021.

July 22, 2022, 3:41 PM

The House Jan. 6 committee's latest hearing put the Secret Service even more under the spotlight after a recent revelation about the agency deleting text messages from around the time of the U.S. Capitol attack.

According to witness testimony, members of the security detail for Vice President Mike Pence were greatly concerned for his safety and well as their own as the violence at the Capitol escalated.

Previous testimony revealed Pence was just 40-feet from the mob before he and his family were ushered to an underground location in the Capitol complex -- where they waited for hours for the attack to tamper down.

"The members of the VP detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives," a witness the committee identified only as a "White House security official" said in an interview aired during Thursday's prime-time hearing.

The official, whose voice was distorted to protect his identity, described a lot of yelling over the radio traffic -- some of that heard for the first time -- and said personal calls were being made by the agents to "say goodbye to family members."

PHOTO: A recording of members of the Former Vice President Mike Pence's detail is played during a hearing by the House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, July 21, 2022, in Washington, D.C., July 21, 2022.
A recording of members of the Former Vice President Mike Pence's detail is played during a hearing by the House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, July 21, 2022, in Washington, D.C., July 21, 2022.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told ABC's "GMA 3" on Friday the testimony was "chilling."

"The vice president, where he was, he was so close to being cut off from an exit route," Kinzinger said, noting that Secret Service agents charged with protecting them may have felt at the time they could be overtaken by the rioters.

"It usually ends with you and your mind saying, 'I will basically give my life to protect the vice president.' But for a few heroic actors, the vice president had no escape route," Kinzinger said.

A log from staff on the National Security Council aired during Thursday's hearing showed at 2:13 p.m. that day windows were starting to be "kicked in" as the Capitol was breached. Just five minutes later, the log shows there was communication that a decision had to be made within the next "next 2-3 mins or they may not be able to move. VP may be stuck at the Capitol."

The revelations came as questions continued about the role of the Secret Service on Jan. 6 in light of what is now a growing probe into deleted text messages sent on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021.

What was in those deleted Jan. 6 messages?

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general has turned the inquiry into the Secret Service's deleted text messages into a criminal investigation, sources confirmed to ABC News.

The agency said the texts in question -- sent on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021 -- were deleted as part of a "device-replacement program" but the inspector general said that the deletions occurred only after his office requested the messages.

The House committee subpoenaed the records on July 15, and have since learned only one text message from the day of the Capitol attack has been turned over by the federal agency.

The Secret Service has said its cooperating with the committee, which suggested the agency's handling of the electronic communications may have violated the Federal Records Act.

Why have some agents retained outside counsel?

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., said during the hearing recent disclosures have caused the committee to subpoena more information from the Secret Service.

"The committee is also aware that certain Secret Service witnesses have now retained new, private counsel," she said. "We anticipate further testimony, under oath, and other new information in the coming weeks."

PHOTO: Members of the Secret Service patrol from the roof of the White House as President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from The Ellipse in Washington, DC, Jan. 6, 2021.
Members of the Secret Service patrol from the roof of the White House as President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from The Ellipse in Washington, DC, Jan. 6, 2021.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Luria told ABC's "The View" on Friday the fact that some agents hired the "some of the criminal lawyers in the country" -- when they could be represented by counsel provided by the Department of Homeland Security -- "tells us a lot."

"We have a lot more questions about the Secret Service," she said. "It just doesn't make any sense to me."

What really happened in the presidential SUV?

The panel spoke to two witnesses who appeared to corroborate previous testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, about what happened inside the presidential SUV after Trump's speech at the Ellipse.

Hutchinson testified on June 28 that she was told about an incident in the vehicle by Tony Ornato, a senior Secret Service official who was at the time White House deputy chief of staff for operations.

Ornato told her that Trump was angrily demanding to go to the Capitol with his supporters, and tried to grab the steering wheel when his security team refused.

The testimony received pushback, as Trump and his allies questioned Hutchinson's credibility.

But Sgt. Mark Robinson, a retired member of the Metropolitan Police Department who was responsible for Trump's motorcade that day, said he heard a similar description of what took place inside the vehicle.

PHOTO: Sgt. Mark Robinson, a retired member of the Metropolitan Police Department responsible for the motorcade on Jan. 6, appears on the video during the prime-time hearing, July 21, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Sgt. Mark Robinson, a retired member of the Metropolitan Police Department responsible for the motorcade on Jan. 6, appears on the video during the prime-time hearing, July 21, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

"The description I received was the president was upset and was adamant about going to the Capitol, and there was a heated discussion about that," Robinson said in a videotaped interview with the committee.

Robinson said the motorcade returned to the White House after the speech at the Ellipse but it was placed on standby while officers waited to confirm whether Trump was going to go to the Capitol after all. He testified they waited for 45 minutes to an hour for the Secret Service to make the final decision, Robinson said.

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