Critics have challenged the veracity of U.S. Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi’s statements amid the congressional probe into the January 6, 2021, insurrection, particularly over his effort to shield his agency from accountability over deleted texts from that period that are being sought by the committee.
This is not the first time Guglielmi has argued that the suspicious disappearance of crucial evidence whose emergence could have hurt the credibility of his employer was simply due to a technical snafu. In a similar role with the Chicago Police Department, he previously claimed that missing audio from five different police dashcam videos that recorded the notorious 2014 police killing of Laquan McDonald was due to “software issues or operator error.”
Secret Service communications from January 5-6, 2021, could shed additional light on several key aspects of the committee’s investigation. But in a letter to Congress last week, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service, alleged that “many” messages from that period had been “erased as part of a device-replacement program” after the inspector general’s office had requested the records.
Guglielmi furiously denied the report on Twitter, taking issue with what he claimed were “categorically false claims,” and later issued a statement arguing that the mass deletion of Secret Service texts was not undertaken “maliciously” but rather as part of a preplanned replacement of staff cell phones. Then on Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that after the January 6 select committee issued a subpoena for Secret Service communications during that period, the agency “determined it has no new texts to provide Congress relevant to its Jan. 6 investigation, and that any other texts its agents exchanged around the time of the 2021 attack on the Capitol were purged.” That mass deletion reportedly occurred after Congress repeatedly asked the agency to preserve its records related to the January 6 insurrection.
Reporters attempting to assess Guglielmi’s credibility should consider Guglielmi’s past work as top spokesperson at the Chicago Police Department, where he worked from 2015 to 2020, according to his LinkedIn profile. Guglielmi was in that role when the city was compelled to release dashcam videos of the police killing of McDonald, a 17-year-old Black youth who was shot 16 times by Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer. The video disproved Van Dyke’s claim that he fired because McDonald was threatening him with a knife, and the officer was later found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of assault.
But that video — and videos taken from the dashcams of four other police cars present at the scene of McDonald’s killing — lacked audio. That means that the sounds of the bullets Van Dyke fired, as well as any and all conversations he had with other officers on the scene after McDonald was killed, were lost.
Why would all five videos of a police killing be missing sound? Guglielmi explained to reporters at the time that there was nothing suspicious about it. “As with any technology, at times software issues or operator error may keep the cameras from operating as they normally should," he told The Associated Press in December 2015.
Experts told the AP that “they could not imagine how an entire fleet of cars would ever lose audio at the same time and place by mere happenstance” and called the missing sound a “red flag.”
The experts’ suspicions were validated. As Chicago reporters followed up on the story over the following weeks, they discovered that CPD dashcam videos habitually lacked audio — including in the recordings of 22 different police shootings that year. Guglielmi himself acknowledged that “more than 80 percent of the cameras have non-functioning audio ‘due to operator error or, in some cases, intentional destruction,’” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
That was the case with regard to the McDonald videos. The dashcam in Van Dyke’s squad car appeared to have been repeatedly sabotaged, according to a review of police maintenance records by DNAInfo Chicago. And four officers present that night were ultimately suspended over the dashcam issue after an investigation reportedly determined they had tried to “withhold and shield video evidence establishing what actually transpired between Van Dyke and McDonald.”
The Justice Department later assessed “officers’ efforts to conceal by mishandling video and audio equipment or by retaliating against civilians who witness misconduct” as part of its investigation of the CPD in the wake of McDonald’s killing.
“Not until the public release of the McDonald shooting video—captured on only two of the five car cameras and excluding all related audio—has CPD made much effort to ensure that cameras and microphones entrusted to officers are working properly and are not tampered with,” the DOJ’s final report stated. “Shortly after our investigation began, the CPD Superintendent warned beat officers that they would be disciplined for failure to follow proper dash-cam protocol. The reminder that officers should follow this policy was probably needed: prior to the McDonald case, it is hard to find any inquiry into the suspicious failure of most of CPD vehicles’ dash-cams."