A Critical Jan. 6 Witness Retires from the Secret Service
The agency says Anthony Ornato left “in good standing after 25 years of devoted service.”
The Secret Service agent who worked in the Trump White House and has been at the center of investigations into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol retired from the agency on Monday.
Kevin Helgert, Secret Service special agent, confirmed to Government Executive that Tony Ornato has retired from the agency “in good standing after 25 years of devoted service.” Ornato headed President Trump’s security detail then took a leave of absence from the agency to serve as deputy White House chief of staff for operations in late 2019. He then went back to the Secret Service when Biden was inaugurated where he served as assistant director in the Office of Training. He came under intense scrutiny in June, after former White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, testified before the House Jan. 6 committee.
“The deputy chief of staff position at the White House for operations is arguably one of the most important positions that somebody can hold. They're in charge of all security protocol for the campus and all presidential protectees, primarily the president and the first family,” Hutchinson testified before the House Select committee investigating the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. “But anything that requires security for any individual that has presidential protection, so the chief of staff or the national security advisor, as well as the vice president's team, too, Tony would oversee all of that. And he was the conduit for security protocol between White House staff and the United States Secret Service.”
She also testified that Ornato told her that he relayed information to the president about the presence of weapons at Trump’s rally on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021. Hutchinson recounted that at a meeting on Jan. 4, 2021, Ornato came in and said “that we had intel reports saying that there could potentially be violence on the 6th;” and that Ornato told her about Trump getting “irate” and trying to grab the steering wheel in his presidential vehicle as he demanded to be taken to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
There have been some reports that Ornato disputes the allegations about the car incident, but in a July 5 Insider story two former White House officials said that, “Ornato has a history of lying for Trump.”
Shortly after Hutchinson’s testimony, the Homeland Security inspector general told Congress that text messages from Secret Service agents around the time of the Capitol attack were erased. The Secret Service said messages were lost as part of a pre-planned data migration and there was no malicious intent. A firestorm then ensued around allegations of wronging by the DHS IG office. IG Joseph Cuffari has defended his handling of the messages. Also, it was later revealed that text messages from top DHS and DOD officials from the Trump administration were missing too.
According to The Intercept, Ornato agreed to an interview with the DHS IG office on Aug. 31 as the office has been trying to interview him since June 29, the day after Hutchinson’s testimony. “Ornato has indicated that he still intends to attend the interview, according to an email obtained by The Intercept, but since Ornato will be a private citizen, investigators won’t have testimonial subpoena authority to compel his cooperation,” said the report.
Last month, in two statements, the Secret Service said it has been fully cooperating with the House Committee and DHS IG.
Nick Schwellenbach, senior investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, which has made many of these allegations about the DHS IG, faulted the DHS IG for taking too long to seek an interview with Ornato. While Ornato can still cooperate with the IG’s office on a voluntary basis, he can decline to answer certain questions, Schwellenbach told Government Executive on Tuesday.
“While he was a career employee at the Secret Service, he was required as a condition of his government employment to fully cooperate with federal investigators,” he said. “The DHS inspector general missed a huge opportunity to interview Ornato on favorable terms, if at all.”
Schwellenbach also said that this situation may increase support for previously introduced legislation that would give all IGs the authority to subpoena former federal employees for in-person testimony.
Meanwhile, the House committee investigating Jan. 6 can subpoena him if he doesn’t participate voluntarily, said Schwellenbach. Ornato already met with the committee in January and March, according to CNN.
Government Executive asked the DHS IG office for comment on Ornato’s departure and what, if anything, it means for its probes as well as asked the office to address the criticism that it should have pursued an interview with Ornato sooner.
“To preserve the integrity of our work and consistent with federal guidelines, DHS OIG does not comment about ongoing reviews,” said a DHS IG spokesperson. “Similarly, we do not confirm the existence of, or comment about, criminal investigations.”
A spokesperson for the House Jan. 6 Committee declined to comment on questions about Ornato’s departure and what it means for the committee’s investigation.
Ornato is taking on a role in the private sector and will not be working for Trump or any of his companies, CNN reported. The news about Ornato comes after Biden announced last Wednesday his pick for the new Secret Service director. It was known for a little while that the outgoing director, James Murray, would be leaving, but he delayed his departure amid the investigations into the text message situation.