Top lawmakers renew call on DHS IG to move away from missing text investigation, citing CNN reporting

House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney and House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson reiterated their appeal to Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to step aside in a letter Monday, citing concerns about “your lack of transparency and independence, which is the integrity of a crucial investigation of your office.”

Maloney and Thompson also demand transcribed interviews with key DHS IG employees. CNN first reported that the DHS Inspector General was stepping up efforts to recover missing Secret Service text messages in July 2021, a year before Cuffari raised concerns about the transparency of the Secret Service and DHS to the congressional oversight committees.

“The commissions have obtained new evidence that your office secretly gave up attempts to collect Secret Service text messages more than a year ago,” the letter said. “These documents also indicate that your office may have taken steps to cover up the extent of missing data, raising concerns about your ability to perform your duties as an inspector general (IG) independently and effectively.”

The committees are requesting a range of notices and documents by Monday, ranging from correspondence related to decisions not to collect or retrieve text messages to communications related to informing Congress.

sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, on Monday reiterated his appeal to the Justice Department to investigate the missing text messages.

“This is about the destruction of critical evidence, whether it be material for the January 6 episode or not. The fact that this man, Joseph Cuffari, as Inspector General, could not get the information sent from the administration to the other should have been handed over and failed to properly report it to Congress or to the agency where he works, we may have compromised very critical evidence when it comes to the historical record on Jan. 6 and he treated it as almost a routine event in instead of something that should have happened,” Durbin told CNN’s Don Lemon.

In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the Inspector General’s Department of Homeland Security Office said it “does not discuss ongoing administrative reviews, confirm the existence of criminal investigations or otherwise comment on criminal investigations.”

Watchdog defends itself

In an internal email to employees obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with CNN, Cuffari defended himself and praised them for their work amid an “attack of undeserved criticism.”

“DHS OIG has been the subject of a tremendous amount of public speculation in recent weeks,” Cuffari told staff in an email obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with CNN.

“Due to the guidelines and quality standards of the US Attorney General, we cannot always respond publicly to falsehoods and false information about our work,” he wrote. “I am so proud of the resilience I have seen in this onslaught of undeserved criticism.”

The email, sent at 2:28 p.m. Monday, arrived shortly before key House Democrats accused Cuffari’s office of manipulating and omitting information about the missing Secret Service investigation and text messages from top DHS officials.

According to the letter, a DHS Deputy Inspector General, Thomas Kait, wrote an email to a senior DHS contact, Jim Crumpacker, on July 27, 2021, advising that DHS investigators were no longer looking. to text messages. Kait is one of the staff members the committee now wants to interview.

“Jim, please use this email as a reference to our conversation where I said we are no longer requesting phone records and text messages from the USSS. [United States Secret Service] regarding the events of January 6,” the email read, according to the letter.

The letter also confirms that CNN is reporting that the investigation into text messages was reopened in December 2021.

Lawmakers said in Monday’s letter that Kait also removed “key language” from a February memo to DHS, underscoring the importance of text messages to the Inspector General’s investigation. The original memo stated that most DHS components had not provided the requested information and noted that the content of text messages is a “critical source of information for the DHS OIG assessment”, but the final version stated the opposite, saying that they had received answers, according to the letter.

“These documents raise troubling new concerns that not only did your office fail to notify Congress for over a year that critical evidence was missing in this investigation, but that your senior staff deliberately chose not to pursue that evidence.” and subsequently appears to have taken steps to address these failures,” the letter reads.

It continues with missing text messages for the two top Homeland Security officials under former President Donald Trump – Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. Information obtained by the commission showed that in February the Inspector General’s office knew those messages were off-limits, but failed to notify Congress. CNN has contacted Cuccinelli for comment.

Final twist in the saga

Monday’s letter is yet another twist in the ongoing saga of missing messages around January 6. Memos obtained by CNN indicate that the Department of Homeland Security repeatedly reminded staff to comply with the Inspector General and relevant Hill commissions.

After the Inspector General’s Office raised concerns with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about compliance with requests, the Secretary sent a September 2021 memo to staff stating that employees must cooperate in interviews and must be informed. provide.

“The department is committed to supporting the mission of the OIG. DHS employees are expected to participate in OIG audits, inspections, investigations, and other investigations. Any attempt to conceal information or interfere with the OIG’s performance of his critical work violates department guidelines and could lead to serious consequences,” the memo reads.

Then, in October 2021, DHS general counsel Jonathan Meyer issued a memo specifically for January 6, 2021, saying the office was working with the selected House committee investigating the Capitol Hill uprising.

“I therefore instruct the department and its units to respond promptly and thoroughly to requests from the selected committee it receives,” the memo reads. “Such cooperation and transparency are vital to the ministry’s obligation to protect our nation and its fundamental democratic principles.”

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