Then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf speaks as then-President Donald Trump listens on August 27, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Records Show There Are More Missing Jan. 6 Texts That DHS Watchdog Failed to Mention

The Project on Government Oversight has called on President Biden to fire Joseph Cuffari, the DHS inspector general who withheld information about the deleted messages from Congress for months.

It was revealed Thursday that additional text messages sent and received by Department of Homeland Security officials before and during the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol are missing--something the DHS inspector general has known for more than five months but unlawfully failed to disclose to Congress.

On top of the Secret Service texts from January 5 and 6 that were deleted after the DHS inspector general's office requested the agency's electronic communications records, messages sent to and from three high-ranking Trump administration officials at DHS in early January 2021 are missing, according to an internal agency record obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and congressional sources.

As POGO explained:

In late February 2022, the department's management division informed DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari's office in writing that text messages sent or received by then-Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, then-Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, and Acting Under Secretary for Management Randolph D. "Tex" Alles cannot be found. The records show Cuffari's office was told that government phones used by those top DHS leaders might also be inaccessible.

Cuffari's office has kept Congress in the dark about the lost DHS leadership texts for more than five months. Four congressional committees had long before asked for all January 6-related federal records from relevant agencies, including DHS, in a letter dated January 16, 2021, ten days after the attack on the Capitol.

It's unclear if Cuffari has told DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, even though there is a legal mandate requiring his office to do so "whenever the inspector general becomes aware of particularly serious or flagrant problems, abuses, or deficiencies relating to the administration of programs and operations." The inspector general's office and DHS did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

"It is extremely troubling that the issue of deleted text messages related to the January 6 attack on the Capitol is not limited to the Secret Service, but also includes Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, who were running DHS at the time," Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs both the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, said in a statement.

"It appears the DHS inspector general has known about these deleted texts for months but failed to notify Congress," Thompson said. "If the inspector general had informed Congress, we may have been able to get better records from senior administration officials regarding one of the most tragic days in our democracy's history."

That messages sent and received by Wolf, Cuccinelli, and Alles in early January 2021 were lost when their government phones were "reset" during that month's White House transition underscores "a systemic failure" by the DHS beyond the Secret Service to adhere to the Federal Records Act, POGO wrote.

Wolf told POGO that he was "unaware" that any of his texts are missing. "I have no clue" about this, he said. "All my phone and text messages should be available." Cuccinelli did not respond to the group's request for comment.

News that more electronic communications records from the run-up to and during the deadly January 6 attack are missing--this time involving the Trump administration's senior-most DHS officials--increases the amount of potentially incriminating evidence that has been vanquished.

It comes as both the House January 6 panel and criminal investigators at the Department of Justice are trying to piece together the multifaceted effort by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss--a right-wing coup attempt that culminated in a violent riot inside the halls of Congress.

"The telephone and text communications of Wolf and Cuccinelli in the days leading up to January 6 could have shed considerable light on Trump's actions and plans," the Washington Postnoted.

As POGO reported:

While Wolf and Cuccinelli have denounced the violence that day, government and news accounts show they were aware of President Donald Trump's behind-the-scenes efforts to cast doubt on and overturn the 2020 presidential election by unsuccessfully trying to have DHS seize voting machines in the weeks prior to January 6. The then-president's aggressive public campaign calling on supporters to "Stop the Steal"--coupled with what Wolf and Cuccinelli privately knew Trump wanted DHS to do--could have made them more sensitive to the possibility that Congress was at risk because of its certification of the election that day.

When the DHS management division alerted the inspector general in February 2022 that texts sent to and from Wolf, Cuccinelli, and Alles in early January 2021 were unavailable, the written notice--made in response to Cuffari's request for the messages as part of his own probe into the agency's preparation for and response to the January 6 insurrection--offered no explanation for why records of the three officials' electronic communications were missing nor any guarantee that they would ever be restored.

Cufarri's office "did not press the department leadership at that time to explain why they did not preserve these records, nor seek ways to recover the lost data," the Post reported, citing four unnamed people briefed on the inspector general's actions.

POGO pointed out that "a semiannual report by Cuffari's office covering October 2021 through March 2022--a span encompassing the period when his office was told of various missing texts--does not disclose that any department records have gone missing."

"A section of the report entitled 'Summary of Attempts to Restrict or Delay Access to Information' only says that there has been a significant delay in accessing Secret Service records," the group continued. "There is no mention of the missing DHS leadership texts, or that the erasure of Secret Service texts had already been known to Cuffari for months."

POGO added that "the February 2022 time frame when Cuffari found out about the missing DHS leadership texts is significant because it came around the same time the Secret Service had again informed his office that text messages sent or received by 24 Secret Service employees had been 'erased' in what the Secret Service says was part of a preplanned 'data migration' project."

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Although he was informed of the deleted Secret Service texts by late February or early March at the latest, Cuffari waited until mid-July to inform the House and Senate homeland security committees.

Earlier this week, the chairs of the House Government Oversight Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee released a biting letter that documents Cuffari's repeated failures to inform Congress about the missing Secret Service texts. The lawmakers revealed that the inspector general's office was aware that the Secret Service texts had been purged as early as December 2021--and not simply "unavailable," as DHS had stated previously.

Last week, the DHS inspector general's office opened a criminal investigation into the Secret Service's destruction of January 6-related messages.

DHS Deputy Inspector General Gladys Ayala asked the Secret Service to cease all internal inquiries amid the watchdog's criminal probe. The legal terrain is complicated, however, because the Secret Service also faces a subpoena from the House January 6 panel and a request for information from the National Archives. In a statement, the Secret Service vowed to "conduct a thorough legal review to ensure we are fully cooperative with all oversight efforts and that they do not conflict with each other."

Meanwhile, this week's letter from Thompson and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the respective chairs of the House homeland security and oversight committees, questions Cuffari's "professional judgment and capacity to effectively fulfill his duties" in the ongoing probe of the lost January 6 texts being conducted by his office.

Preivous "omissions left Congress in the dark about key developments in this investigation and may have cost investigators precious time to capture relevant evidence," states the letter. "Cuffari's actions in this matter, which follow other troubling reports about his conduct as inspector general, cast serious doubt on his independence and his ability to effectively conduct such an important investigation."

In a letter published earlier this year, POGO executive director Danielle Brian called on President Joe Biden to fire Cuffari, citing his monthslong failure to report pervasive sexual harassment and sexual misconduct at DHS to agency leaders and Congress.

Thompson and Maloney's letter urges a government council of inspectors general to appoint another watchdog to oversee the Secret Service probe currently being led by Cufarri. The council's executive director, however, told Bloomberg on Wednesday that he is powerless to reassign the investigation.

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