Aug 16, 2022
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has refused congressional requests for documents and prevented staff from testifying about the destruction of text messages sent by Secret Service agents and senior DHS officials prior to and on the day of the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
That's according to Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)--the respective chairs of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Committee on Homeland Security--who told DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari in a Tuesday letter that he must start cooperating with their committees' joint investigations into his potential mismanagement of the deleted texts as well as his alleged censorship of an internal report on sexual harassment, or expect a subpoena.
Despite being asked multiple times, "you have refused to produce responsive documents and blocked employees in your office from appearing for transcribed interviews," Maloney and Thompson wrote. "Your obstruction of the committees' investigations is unacceptable, and your justifications for this noncompliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Congress' authority and your duties as an inspector general."
"You have refused to produce responsive documents and blocked employees in your office from appearing for transcribed interviews."
"If you continue to refuse to comply with our requests, we will have no choice but to consider alternate measures to ensure your compliance," the chairs continued, suggesting that Cuffari could soon face a congressional subpoena.
The DHS Office of Inspector General launched a criminal probe into the Secret Service's deletion of potentially insurrection-related messages on July 21. Five days later, however, Maloney and Thompson wrote a letter questioning Cuffari's "independence and his ability to effectively conduct such an important investigation" and implored him to "step aside."
Thompson and Maloney urged a government council of inspectors general to appoint another watchdog to oversee the Secret Service investigation currently being led by Cufarri--something the council's executive director says he lacks the authority to do.
After it was revealed that the DHS inspector general illegally withheld information about erased texts for months and abandoned efforts to collect them, Maloney and Thompson sent another letter to Cuffari on August 1, in which they told Cuffari that his "lack of transparency and independence... appear to be jeopardizing the integrity of a crucial investigation run by your office."
"Removing yourself from this investigation is even more urgent today," the lawmakers wrote. "In addition, in light of the cascading revelations about your failure to conduct this investigation effectively and communicate truthfully with Congress, our committees need further information to determine the full scope of potential mismanagement and misconduct in your investigation and to identify further actions Congress may need to take."
Maloney and Thompson asked Cuffari to provide documents related to his office's decision not to pursue missing January 6-related text messages sent and received by Secret Service agents and former DHS leaders and to make two deputy inspectors general available for transcribed interviews.
In response, Cuffari told the committee chairs in an August 8 letter disclosed Tuesday that he will not comply with their request for internal documents and interviews, citing his office's "ongoing" probe.
In their latest letter, Maloney and Thompson told Cuffari: "You have not identified a legitimate basis to refuse to comply with the committees' requests for documents and information, and your claim that you are prevented from doing so due to an ongoing criminal investigation is inaccurate."
"Congress frequently conducts independent investigations even when a related criminal investigation is ongoing," the pair wrote. "As the Supreme Court has acknowledged, legislative inquires need not yield to parallel proceedings, even if those proceedings are criminal in nature."
As The Associated Pressreported Tuesday:
It's just the latest back-and-forth over the text messages since mid-July, when Cuffari sent a letter to Congress disclosing that Secret Service text messages sent and received around January 6, 2021, were deleted despite requests from Congress and federal investigators that they be preserved.
Since then, the two House committees say they have obtained evidence that shows the inspector general's office first learned of the missing Secret Service text messages as part of its investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol, in May 2021. They say emails between top Homeland Security IG officials show the agency--which oversees the Secret Service--decided to abandon efforts to recover those text messages in July 2021, nearly a year before they first informed Congress they were erased.
Maloney and Thompson wrote earlier this month that lawmakers want to know why internal watchdogs led by Cuffari chose "not to pursue critical information from the Secret Service at this point in this investigation," and didn't submit a new request to the DHS for certain text messages until more than four months later in December 2021.
In Tuesday's letter, Maloney and Thompson gave Cuffari an August 23 deadline to provide "all responsive documents" and make personnel available for interviews with lawmakers.
As a result of the unauthorized erasure of electronic communications records from the run-up to and during the deadly January 6 attack, potentially incriminating evidence is still missing and may never be recovered.
In response to a subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 attack, of which Thompson is chair, the Secret Service has turned over several pieces of information--but just a single text message from that fateful day and the one preceding it.
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.
Maloney and Thompson also wrote to Cuffari this May to request documents after it was reported that his office "sought to censor findings of domestic abuse and sexual harassment by DHS employees," but they were rebuffed by the inspector general.
In a letter published earlier this year, Project on Government Oversight executive director Danielle Brian called on President Joe Biden to fire Cuffari, citing his monthslong failure to inform DHS leaders and Congress of the agency's pervasive culture of abuse.
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