House

Democrats threaten ‘alternate means’ to force DHS watchdog to cooperate in probe of deleted Jan. 6 texts

Two top House Democrats are slamming the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over his refusal to provide documents to House committees related to his investigation into missing Secret Service texts from Jan. 6, 2021. 

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a letter on Tuesday to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari that he has refused to produce documents related to their probe into his office’s handling of the investigations. 

They said if Cuffari continues to refuse to cooperate, they will need to consider “alternate measures” to ensure his compliance. 

The letter follows one that Cuffari sent last week in response to two previous requests from Maloney and Thompson that he provide additional information about the office’s Jan. 6 investigations and that he step aside from the investigation. Cuffari’s letter was made public on Tuesday. 

In his letter, Cuffari said the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has informed Congress about multiple access issues that his office has experienced with the department since last year. He said he and his team briefed Thompson, who also serves as the chair of the House select committee investigating the Capitol insurrection, on July 15 about the issues the office has had in investigating Jan. 6. 

Cuffari said federal guidelines lay out that he cannot confirm or discuss ongoing criminal investigations, as it could impact potential witnesses or others involved in the investigative process. He said the office does not allow staff members to sit for transcribed interviews about ongoing matters but will consider requests for documents, briefings or interviews after they are completed. 

Maloney and Thompson said in their letter Tuesday that they have written to Cuffari on three occasions since May to request documents and information related to his conduct as inspector general. The first one in May involved allegations that his office censored findings of domestic abuse and sexual harassment by DHS employees. 

But the most recent controversy facing DHS and the OIG is the revelation last month that text messages that Secret Service agents sent on Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, were deleted apparently during a device replacement program. The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight obtained a document late last month showing that text messages from former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, sent in the days surrounding Jan. 6 were also missing. 

Lawmakers have raised questions about why Cuffari did not notify Congress, and specifically relevant committees investigating the insurrection, sooner. 

Maloney and Thompson’s other two requests for documents and for Cuffari to step aside came after he failed to “promptly” notify Congress of the missing Secret Service texts and after new information showed that the OIG repeatedly failed to gather texts from agents and other top officials related to the attack. 

The House Oversight and Homeland Security committees released evidence earlier this month that the OIG dropped its efforts to obtain the missing texts in the aftermath of Jan. 6. 

Maloney and Thompson argue that Cuffari violated the Inspector General Act, which requires inspectors general to immediately report to the head of agency when they become aware of “particularly serious or flagrant problems, abuses, or deficiencies relating to the administration of programs and operations.” 

The agency head must then submit any report to relevant committees or subcommittees of Congress within seven calendar days. 

The two lawmakers said they are concerned Cuffari is using a criminal investigation to hide evidence from Congress about his misconduct. They said he has not identified a legitimate reason for refusing to comply with their committees’ requests, and he had a lot of time before the current investigation to provide documents and information. 

They said Congress also frequently conducts independent investigations even when a related criminal investigation is ongoing.

Tags Bennie Thompson Bennie Thompson Carolyn Maloney Congressional oversight Department of Homeland Security House Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 insurrection Joseph Cuffari Joseph Cuffari Office of Inspector General Office of the Inspector General Secret Service texts Secret Services deleted texts
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