Homeland Security watchdog faces reprimand from lawmakers over missing texts case


The Department of Homeland Security’s chief watchdog has rejected calls from leading Democratic lawmakers to withdraw from the investigation into the erasure of text messages Secret Service agents exchanged during the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack. Tuesday.

Inspector General Joseph Cuffari said in a letter released Tuesday that he would not share investigative documents or seat his top lieutenants for transcribed interviews for House committees investigating the attack, nor provide documents lawmakers had requested.

Cuffari said forcing him to step aside “has no legal basis” and would “undermine the independence Congress has established for inspectors general,” according to the letter he sent to the House oversight committees. on Aug 8

The House Committees on Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform released his letter Tuesday, along with their response accusing Cuffari of delaying their investigation into one of the most serious attacks in US history. Cuffari surprised lawmakers last month with a letter accusing the Secret Service of erasing text messages from the time of the attack after asking.

Homeland Security watchdog previously accused of misleading investigators, report says

But committee members soon learned that Cuffari and his staff had been aware of the missing messages for months, failed to notify Congress or the Secretary of Homeland Security, and canceled steps to retrieve them. Lawmakers said the reports may contain crucial evidence as Secret Service agents shadow presidents and other top officials and may have witnessed their actions that day.

“Your obstruction of the committees’ investigations is unacceptable, and your justifications for this noncompliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the authority of Congress and your duties as Inspector General,” Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, president of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the Jan. 6 Committee and the House Committee on Homeland Security, wrote to Cuffari on Tuesday.

“If you continue to refuse to comply with our requests, we have no choice but to consider alternative measures to ensure that you comply with our requests,” they wrote.

The committees do not want to comment on what those steps might be, a spokeswoman said.

Ahead of the committee’s next hearing on Jan. 6, members asked the Secret Service to pass on allegedly deleted text messages from the Capitol attack. (Video: The Washington Post)

Cuffari was nominated by former President Donald Trump, whose supporters stormed the Capitol in a failed attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Lawmakers said in a letter that Cuffari’s refusal is part of a pattern of opposition to their efforts to investigate complaints about his office. They said they have written to him three times since May requesting documents about allegations that his office has censored “findings of domestic violence and sexual harassment” by DHS employees, his failure to immediately notify Congress of missing Secret Service texts, and new reports that documented “repeated failures” to recover the messages.

Cuffari is also under investigation by an independent watchdog, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. People familiar with that investigation have also accused Cuffari of refusing to release some data and blocking interviews with staff, delaying that investigation, which has now lasted more than 15 months.

In his Aug. 8 letter to the commissions, Cuffari said he conducted investigations Jan. 6 in coordination with the inspectors general of the Justice, Defense and Home Affairs ministries, as well as executive and legislative agencies. He noted that since last year he has complained to Congress about the difficulties in obtaining information from DHS, blaming “the DHS resistance” for delays.

He said he has published one review of the January 6 attack and is working on two others. “Once those two pending reviews are complete, we’ll be happy to provide briefings on them,” he wrote.

“To my knowledge, I am the only inspector general to date to have publicly reported access issues and delays to Congress around Jan. 6,” he wrote.

But Cuffari declined to provide documents that he said could jeopardize his ongoing investigation. He opened a criminal investigation in July and ordered the Secret Service to halt efforts to retrieve the missing messages. The agency has said the messages were lost as part of a planned switchover on their phones.

Watchdog launches criminal investigation into missing Secret Service messages

“Sharing information about pending criminal investigations could have implications for potential witnesses or others who may be involved in the investigation process,” Cuffari wrote. “To protect the integrity of our work and maintain our independence, we do not share information about current affairs, such as the information you have requested in your letters.

“Likewise, we do not authorize our staff to attend transcribed interviews with your committee on these pending cases,” he wrote. “Once these matters are finalised, we will consider a renewed request for documents, briefings or transcribed interviews.”

But the committees disputed Cuffari’s claim that he cannot share data with lawmakers, saying they are concerned that his office is employing delaying tactics to prevent the committee from understanding the reasons for the delays.

“We are concerned that you are now making improper use of a criminal investigation you announced only recently to hide evidence of your misconduct and mismanagement from Congress,” they wrote.

They said Cuffari had failed to notify them of Secret Service text messages for over a year, and in some cases “gave the impression that access issues had been resolved”.

When Cuffari notified the Homeland Security Committee of the missing text messages from the Secret Service on July 15, they wrote, “that was 14 months after you reportedly learned that the text messages were not available.”

They said Cuffari also failed to disclose that his office told DHS in July 2021 that it “no longer needed the text messages” nor did the text messages from Trump’s former acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy Ken Cuccinelli. were available.

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