DHS watchdog declined to publish draft report slamming Secret Service
Investigators with the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog were prepared to slam the Secret Service in a public report for stonewalling their Jan. 6 probe and for having “wiped” texts from the day of the riot.
But that March draft language, which criticizes Secret Service for “not communicating this highly relevant information,” never made it into a semiannual report released in June.
Doing so would have alerted the public to missing texts a month before Inspector General Joseph Cuffari notified Congress that Secret Service “erased” its text messages.
The document, obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, was shared along with another showing the language was approved in April by the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) legal counsel.
It’s not clear why the language never made it into the June semiannual report from OIG.
But the draft text shows that OIG realized it had a legal obligation to make that disclosure, noting a provision of the Inspectors General Act requiring inclusion of incidents where an agency has “resisted or objected” to oversight.
The draft also shows OIG was not going to mince words about Secret Service’s pushback on their efforts.
“On Feb. 23, 2022 — more than two months after the OIG renewed its requests for select Secret Service employees’ text messages — Secret Service claimed an inability to extract text message content due to an April 2021 mobile phone system migration, which wiped all data,” the draft language stated.
“Secret Service caused significant delays by not communicating this highly relevant information at the outset of its exchanges with OIG during this reporting period. Moreover, Secret Service has not explained why it did not preserve the texts prior to the migration.”
The disclosure of the draft language comes as House lawmakers have asked Cuffari to step aside from his Jan. 6 investigation and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to intervene and take over the Jan. 6 probe.
Cuffari has for years faced scrutiny over his choices, including accusations he has passed over investigations and narrowed lines of inquiry for his investigators.
The unpublished report language is likely to sharpen questions around why he informed lawmakers of issues in July, when his staff had lost patience with Secret Service as early as March.
The draft language also highlights the watchdog’s confusion over Secret Service’s refusal to turn over any documents without them first being reviewed by DHS attorneys.
“Secret Service interviewees regularly indicate they will not provide documents directly to OIG without the documents first going through an internal review. Secret Service implemented this process without stating any authority supporting delaying or withholding information from OIG,” the language states.
“This practice leaves unclear whether OIG has received the full spectrum of requested documents. The practice continues despite multiple previous discussions between OIG and the Secret Service for withholding information under the IG Act.”
The draft language goes into far more detail than what OIG ultimately published, noting that documents were initially heavily redacted, and that the watchdog wasted “valuable time” before eventually getting unredacted documents.
In its June report, all of the grievances investigators sought to publicly disclose were stripped from the report, condensing four paragraphs into two sentences.
“During the previous reporting period, we included information about Secret Service’s significant delay of OIG’s access to Secret Service records, impeding the progress of our January 6, 2021 review. We continue to discuss this issue with Secret Service,” it concluded.
Lawmakers on Wednesday sent a barrage of letters to Cuffari, Secret Service Director James Murray and even DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asking questions over nearly every detail of the episode — from why the texts were missing, whether an effort has been made to recover them and questioning a number of different internal policies — showing that even a month later, DHS leaders have failed to offer much insight into the episode.