Lawmakers ask watchdog to step back from investigation into ‘erased’ Secret Service texts

Lawmakers are asking the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) inspector general to step down from an ongoing investigation into “deleted” Secret Service text messages.

Inspector General Joseph Cuffari informed Congress earlier this month that the agency’s text messages on January 5 and 6, 2021, appeared to have been erased as part of a device replacement program, leaving lawmakers irritated. that he waited months to alert them.

“We are writing to express our grave concerns about Inspector General Cuffari’s failure to promptly brief Congress on crucial information while conducting an investigation into the Secret Service’s preparation and response to the insurgency in January 6, 2021 at the United States Capitol,” House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.) wrote in a letter. .

“These omissions left Congress in the dark about key developments in this investigation and may have cost investigators valuable time capturing relevant evidence,” they wrote.

“Inspector General Cuffari’s actions in this case, which follow other troubling reports of his conduct as Inspector General, cast serious doubt on his independence and ability to effectively conduct such an important investigation. In light of these serious failures, we call on Inspector General Cuffari to step down from the ongoing investigation into the Secret Service’s deletion of text messages,” the two lawmakers wrote.

It’s a remarkable request, because inspectors general are expected to impartially review the affairs of the agencies they help hold accountable. Lawmakers requested that the Board of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency appoint another inspector general to lead the investigation.

The letter alleged that Cuffari had known since December that messages sent and received by the Secret Service for that period were no longer available.

“Yet Inspector General Cuffari has taken no action to notify Congress of this serious and flagrant violation of federal records laws,” they wrote.

Cuffari’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cuffari’s notification to Congress sparked a storm of activity. The letter was forwarded to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which is also chaired by Thompson.

Once made public, the National Archives asked the DHS Custodian of Records to conduct its own investigation of the texts, and the January 6 committee also subpoenaed the texts.

The Secret Service said it recorded only one text from that period, noting that individual agents were required to retain text messages before the agency underwent migration to new mobile management software.

Among the agents whose texts cannot be explained are Bobby Engel, the head of Donald Trump’s security service, who White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson said was “pushed” by the then-president when he was informed that the Secret Service would not be taking him to the Capitol on January 6.

The January 6 panel has since argued that the The handling of the case by the secret services could violate the law on public records.

But Tuesday’s letter says Cuffari’s delay could also violate the law — in this case, the Inspector General Act — that requires inspectors general to report particularly serious matters to their agency chief.

Cuffari clearly did not alert Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, which lawmakers said “brings into question whether Inspector General Cuffari has the professional judgment and ability to effectively carry out his duties in this investigation.”

His only warnings of struggles with the Secret Service came in a report earlier this year in which he complained of a “significant delay in the OIG’s access to Secret Service records” which “hindered” his investigation of the January 6.

Mayorkas’ office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Cuffari has served as DHS inspector general since 2019, after being appointed to the position by Trump.

The committee chairs list a long list of other grievances with Cuffari, pointing to earlier letters regarding slow investigations into the deaths of two children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection and other instances where he appeared to suppress findings detailing domestic violence and sexual harassment by DHS employees.

But they also wrote that this is “not the first time that Inspector General Cuffari has shown a reluctance to investigate the Secret Service”, saying that Cuffari has refused to undertake investigations into excessive use of force or to assess the agency’s COVID protocols.

He also declined to investigate the role of the Secret Service in cleaning up Lafayette Park following protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

The letter gives Cuffari until August 9 to respond.

Updated at 5:45 p.m.

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