Key Dems want DHS Inspector General removed from Secret Service probe

Key Dems want DHS Inspector General removed from Secret Service probe

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A pair of key congressional Democrats called on Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to step aside from his office’s investigation into the Secret Service on Tuesday, saying the Trump appointee knew earlier than has been reported that the agency deleted text messages from around the time of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.), who heads the House committee that oversees inspectors general, and Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Jan. 6 committee and the Homeland Security Committee, said the inspector general’s office admitted in congressional briefings that it became aware that agents’ text messages were erased in December 2021 — two months earlier than reported. But Cuffari did not report that to Congress until this month.

The lawmakers said these and other omissions have broken their faith in Cuffari’s ability to lead the investigation, and they urged the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, an independent entity in the executive branch, to appoint another inspector general to handle the Secret Service probe.

“Due to the nature and importance of this investigation, there must be no doubt that the Inspector General leading this investigation can conduct it thoroughly and with integrity, objectivity, and independence,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “We do not have confidence that Inspector General Cuffari can achieve those standards.”

Cuffari and the council did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter, which was sent to Cuffari and to Allison Lerner, the council’s chair. The lawmakers asked for a response by Aug. 9.

Watchdog launches criminal probe over missing Secret Service messages

The letter comes days after Cuffari opened a criminal investigation into the Secret Service’s allegedly missing texts, halting the agency’s efforts to retrieve the records itself in response to a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee.

Cuffari sent a letter to the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees this month accusing the agency of erasing text messages from the time around the assault on the Capitol and after he had asked them for his own investigation.

The Secret Service said that any “insinuation” that they maliciously deleted text messages is false and that the deletions were part of a preplanned “system migration” of its phones. They said none of the texts Cuffari’s office was seeking had disappeared.

In their letter, Thompson and Maloney also faulted the Secret Service for deleting messages that could offer eyewitness accounts of the Capitol attack and the actions of President Donald Trump, whose supporters raided the building in an attempt to stop lawmakers from certifying election results.

The lawmakers said several House committees investigating the attack had sought records from DHS and other agencies 10 days later. Since they protect the president and vice president and other top officials, the Secret Service records could offer a close accounting of their actions that day.

“Despite the legal obligation to preserve these records, the Secret Service reportedly undertook a system migration process on January 27, 2021, that caused the erasure of text messages related to January 6,” the lawmakers wrote.

Cuffari’s office also requested records from the Secret Service on Feb. 26, 2021, for its own investigation into the Capitol attack. But the lawmakers said in the letter that he did not tell them that he had trouble getting the Secret Service’s text messages in his semiannual reports to Congress and considered issuing an alert that would have warned them and the public about the missing information, but decided that “this warning was unnecessary.”

Cuffari also did not alert the agency head, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, of the problem, as required under the Inspector General Act of 1978, which triggers a requirement that the agency head notify congressional committees.

“The DHS IG’s failure to promptly report and escalate the Secret Service’s stonewalling calls into question whether Inspector General Cuffari has the professional judgment and capacity to effectively fulfill his duties in this investigation,” the lawmakers wrote.

They said their call for Cuffari to step aside follows a string of concerns about the pace and content of his past investigations and said inspectors general have stepped aside before when concerns have surfaced about their independence.

In January 2021, the council identified another inspector general to investigate the unauthorized disclosure of information from a draft Justice Department OIG report on the Trump administration’s child separation policy.

And in 2020, the State Department’s acting inspector general recused himself from investigations into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after Maloney, chair of the House Oversight Committee, and others raised concerns about the acting inspector general.

Watchdog launches criminal probe over missing Secret Service messages

Secret Service agents, who protect the president, the vice president and other top officials and their families, would have had a “front-row seat” to Trump’s actions as his supporters sacked the Capitol, said Donald K. Sherman, senior vice president and chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog.

The watchdog organization called on the Justice Department and the FBI to open a criminal investigation into the missing text messages on July 18.

“The Federal Records Act requires that agencies like the Secret Service preserve records so that there is a complete and accurate history of the government’s actions and decisions,” Sherman said in a statement, and anyone who willfully destroys them could face prison time and ends.

Sherman said the Secret Service’s text messages could offer a window into the critical hours involving the attack, including former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony to the Jan. 6 committee that she was told that Trump lunged at his lead Secret Service agent after being told he could not join his supporters at the Capitol.

The messages could also document the frantic moments as the Secret Service swept Pence to safety and he then refused to let them drive him away so that he could finish certifying the election results.

The National Archives and Records Administration asked the Secret Service to respond to reports about the missing text messages. Officials said Monday that “as a general rule,” NARA puts its inquiries on hold until an agency’s internal probes are complete.

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