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Top lawmakers renew call for DHS IG to withdraw from investigation of missing texts, citing CNN reports

Top lawmakers renew call for DHS IG to withdraw from investigation of missing texts, citing CNN reports
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CNN

Key House Democrats have issued a new call for the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to back out of an investigation into missing Secret Service text messages thereafter an exclusive CNN report showed that investigators had known for more than a year that texts had been deleted.

Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Oversight Committee, and Bennie Thompson, chair of House Homeland Security, reiterated their call for Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to step down in a letter Monday, expressing concern about “your lack of transparency and independence that compromises the integrity.” of a crucial investigation being conducted by your office.”

Maloney and Thompson are also requesting transcribed interviews with key DHS-IG employees. CNN first reported that DHS Inspector General investigators halted 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 received 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 indicate that your office may have taken steps to cover up the extent of missing records, raising further concerns about your ability to independently and effectively carry out your duties as Inspector General (IG).”

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

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

“This is about destroying critical evidence, whether or not it is material for the January 6 episode. The fact that this man, Joseph Cuffari, as Inspector General, was unable to obtain the information that should have been transferred from administration to the other and improperly reported it to Congress or the agency where he works is something we may have jeopardizes some very critical evidence when it comes to the January 6 historical record, and he treated it as an almost routine event and not something that should have been emphasized,” Durbin told CNN’s Don Lemon.

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

However, in an internal email to employees obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with CNN, Cuffari defended herself and praised her work amid an “onslaught of unfounded criticism.”

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

“Because of the US Attorney General’s guidelines and quality standards, we cannot always publicly respond to untruths and misinformation about our work,” he wrote. “I’m so proud of the resilience I’ve experienced in the face of this onslaught of unmeritorious criticism.”

The email, which was sent out at 2:28 p.m. Monday, came just before key House Democrats accused Cuffari’s office of tampering with and omitting information about its investigation into the missing Secret Service and the text messages of senior DHS officials.

The letter reveals that on July 27, 2021, a DHS Assistant Inspector General, Thomas Kait, wrote an email to a senior DHS liaison, Jim Crumpacker, telling DHS investigators that they were no longer looking for text messages . Kait is one of the staff that the committee would now like to interview.

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

The letter also confirms CNN’s coverage that the investigation into text messages resumed 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 mentioned that most DHS components failed to provide the requested information and labeled the content of text messages as a “critical source of information for the DHS OIG review,” but the final version said the opposite, stating they receive replies would have letter.

“These documents raise disturbing new concerns that not only did your office fail for over a year to notify Congress that crucial evidence was missing from this investigation, but that your senior staff made a conscious choice not to have that evidence follow up, and then appear to have taken steps to cover for those failures to reverse,” the letter reads.

It also cites missing text messages for the two top officials at Homeland Security under former President Donald Trump — Acting Secretary of State Chad Wolf and Acting Assistant Secretary of State Ken Cuccinelli. Information obtained by the committee showed that in February the office of the inspector general knew that these messages could not be accessed but did not inform Congress. CNN reached out to Cuccinelli for comment.

Monday’s letter is another twist in the ongoing saga of missing news around January 6th. Memos obtained by CNN indicate that the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly reminded staff to heed the Inspector General and relevant Hill committees.

After the office of the inspector general raised concerns with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about complying with requests, the secretary issued a memo to staff in September 2021 saying that staff should cooperate and provide information during interviews.

“The Department is committed to supporting the OIG’s mission. DHS employees are expected to cooperate with OIG audits, inspections, investigations and other investigations. Any attempt to conceal information or prevent the OIG from carrying out its critical work violates Department directives and may have serious consequences,” the memo said.

Then, in October 2021, DHS General Counsel Jonathan Meyer issued a memo specific to January 6, 2021, saying the office was working with the House of Representatives investigating the Capitol Hill riot.

“I therefore direct the department and its components to respond expeditiously and thoroughly 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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