Top lawmakers urge DHS IG to drop probe into missing texts, CNN report

Top lawmakers urge DHS IG to drop probe into missing texts, CNN report
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House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson reiterated their calls for Inspector General Joseph Kuffari’s resignation in a letter Monday, citing concerns that he has “lacked transparency and independence, which appears to jeopardize the integrity of the agency.” important investigation carried out by your office.”

Maloney and Thompson also request transcribed interviews with key DHS IG personnel. CNN first reported that DHS inspector general investigators suspended efforts to recover missing Secret Service text messages in July 2021, a year before Cuffari raised concerns about Secret Service and DHS transparency with 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 said. “These documents also suggest that your office may have taken steps to cover up 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 requesting a package of communications and documents by Monday, ranging from correspondence related to any decisions not to collect or recover text messages to communications related to briefing Congress.

Sen. Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin on Monday reiterated his call for the Justice Department to investigate the missing text messages.

“This is about the destruction of critical evidence, whether or not it was relevant to the January 6th episode. If this man, Joseph Kuffari, as the inspector general, failed to receive information that should have been passed from one agency to another and did not properly inform Congress or the agency he worked for, when it comes to the January 6th record , we may have compromised some very critical evidence, and he treated it almost as a routine occurrence 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, Inspector General, said it “does not discuss ongoing administrative investigations and does not confirm or otherwise comment on the existence of criminal investigations.”

The guard dog defends itself

However, in an internal email to employees obtained by the Government Oversight Project and shared with CNN, Cuffari defended himself and praised them for their work amid an “onslaught of unwarranted criticism.”

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

“Due to U.S. Attorney General guidelines and quality standards, we are not always able to publicly respond to false and misleading information about our work,” he wrote. “I am proud of the resilience I have witnessed in the face of this unwarranted onslaught of criticism.”

The email, sent at 2:28 p.m. Monday, came shortly before key House Democrats accused Cuffari’s office of manipulating and releasing information related to its investigation into the text messages of missing Secret Service and top DHS officials.

The letter states that DHS Deputy Inspector General Thomas Kait wrote an email to DHS Liaison Officer Jim Krumpacker on July 27, 2021, stating that DHS investigators are no longer looking for text messages. Kait is one of the employees the committee currently wants to interview.

“Jim, please use this email as a reference to our conversation where I stated that we no longer request phone records and text messages from USSS. [United States Secret Service] Regarding the events of January 6″, the letter says.

The letter also confirms CNN’s report that the investigation into the text messages was reopened in December 2021.

Kait also removed “key language” from a memo sent to DHS in February that highlighted the importance of the text messages to the inspector general’s investigation, the lawmakers said in a Monday letter. The original memo said most DHS components did not provide the requested information and that the contents of the text message were a “critical source of information for the DHS OIG investigation,” but the latest version said otherwise, saying they had received responses. letter.

“These documents raise troubling new concerns that your office failed to notify Congress for more than a year that critical evidence was missing from this investigation, and that your senior staff appears to have deliberately chosen not to pursue that evidence and then took steps to cover it up. “, the letter says.

It cites missing text messages for two top Homeland Security officials under former President Donald Trump — Acting Secretary of State Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. According to reports obtained by the committee, the inspector general’s office was aware in February that the messages could not be accessed, but did not inform Congress. CNN has reached out to Cuccinelli for comment.

The latest twist in the saga

Monday’s letter is yet another twist in the ongoing saga of the January 6 missing messages. Records obtained by CNN show 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 about compliance with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary issued a memo to the workforce in September 2021 saying employees must cooperate with interviews and provide information.

“The Department is committed to supporting the OIG’s mission. DHS employees are expected to cooperate with OIG audits, inspections, investigations, and other requests. Any attempt to withhold information or prevent the OIG from doing its critical work is contrary to Department directives and could lead to serious consequences.” , – the information says.

Later, in October 2021, DHS General Counsel Jonathan Meyer issued a memo dated January 6, 2021, saying the office was cooperating with the House select committee investigating the Capitol Hill riot.

“I therefore direct the Department and its components to respond promptly and comprehensively to any Select Committee inquiries it receives,” the memo said. “Such cooperation and transparency are vital to the Department’s commitment to protecting our nation and its fundamental democratic principles.”

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