House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney and House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson reiterated their call for Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to step down in a letter on Monday, citing concerns about “your lack of transparency and independence, which appears to jeopardize the integrity of a crucial investigation conducted by your office.”
Maloney and Thompson are also demanding transcribed interviews with key DHS IG staff. CNN first reported that DHS Inspector General Investigators abandoned efforts to recover missing Secret Service text messages in July 2021, a year before Cuffari raised concerns about Secret Service and government transparency. DHS to congressional oversight committees.
“The committees have obtained new evidence that your office may have secretly abandoned efforts to collect text messages from the Secret Service more than a year ago,” the letter states. “These documents also indicate that your office may have taken steps to conceal the extent of the missing records, raising further concerns about your ability to independently and effectively perform your duties as Inspector General (IG) .”
The committees are asking for a list of communications and documents by Monday, ranging from correspondence related to any decision not to collect or retrieve text messages to communications related to notification to Congress.
Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, reiterated his call on Monday for the Justice Department to investigate the missing text messages.
“It is about the destruction of critical evidence, whether material or not for the January 6 episode. The fact that this man, Joseph Cuffari, as Inspector General, could not obtain the information that should have been transferred from administration to administration and did not properly report it to Congress or the agency he works for, we may have compromised some very critical evidence with respect to the record historic January 6th and he treated it as an almost routine event rather than something that should have been highlighted,” Durbin told CNN’s Don Lemon.
In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said it “does not discuss ongoing administrative reviews or confirm the existence of criminal investigations or comment in any other way on these investigations”.
Watchdog fights back
However, 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 “assault of baseless criticism.”
“Over the past two weeks, the DHS OIG has been the subject of an enormous amount of public speculation,” Cuffari told staff in an email obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with CNN.
“Due to United States Attorney General guidelines and quality standards, we cannot always respond publicly to untruths and misinformation about our work,” he wrote. “I’m so proud of the resilience I’ve witnessed in the face of this onslaught of baseless criticism.”
The email, sent at 2:28 p.m. Monday, came shortly before leading House Democrats accused Cuffari’s office of manipulating and omitting information about its investigation into the missing Secret Service text messages and senior DHS officials.
The letter shows that a DHS deputy inspector general, Thomas Kait, wrote an email to a senior DHS liaison, Jim Crumpacker, on July 27, 2021, advising that DHS investigators were no longer looking for text messages. Kait is one of the staff the committee wishes to interview now.
“Jim, please use this email as a reference to our conversation where I said we are no longer requesting phone and text recordings from the USSS [United States Secret Service] regarding the events of January 6,” the email reads, according to the letter.
The letter also confirms that CNN is reporting that the SMS probe was reopened in December 2021.
Lawmakers said in Monday’s letter that Kait also removed “key language” from a February memo to DHS stressing the importance of text messages to the inspector general’s investigation. The original memo mentioned that most DHS components did not provide the requested information and noted that the content of the text messages was a “critical source of information for DHS OIG review”, but the final version stated otherwise, saying they had received responses, 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 key evidence in this investigation was missing, but your senior officials deliberately chose not to pursue that evidence and then appear to have taken steps to cover up those failures,” the letter reads.
He goes on to cite missing text messages for the two top Homeland Security officials under former President Donald Trump — Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Assistant Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. Information obtained by the committee revealed that the inspector general’s office was aware in February that these messages were not accessible, but did not inform Congress. CNN has reached out to Cuccinelli for comment.
Last twist of the saga
Monday’s letter is another twist in the ongoing saga over missing messages around January 6. Memos obtained by CNN indicate that the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly reminded the workforce to comply with the inspector general and relevant Hill committees.
After the Office of Inspector General raised concerns with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about compliance with requests, the secretary issued a September 2021 memo to staff saying employees should cooperate in interviews and provide information.
“The Department is committed to supporting the mission of the OIG. DHS employees are expected to cooperate with OIG audits, inspections, investigations, and other investigations. Any effort to conceal information or prevent the OIG to carry out its critical work is contrary to Department guidelines and may result in serious consequences,” the memo reads.
Then, in October 2021, DHS General Counsel Jonathan Meyer issued a memo specific to January 6, 2021, stating that the office was cooperating with the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol Hill insurrection.
“I therefore call on the Department and its components to respond promptly and thoroughly to any select committee requests it receives,” the memo reads. “This cooperation and transparency is essential to the Department’s obligation to protect our nation and its fundamental democratic principles.”