House Democratic leaders are accusing the Department of Homeland Security inspector general of obstructing congressional oversight by repeatedly failing to turn over the Secret Service’s missing texts from before and during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
In a scathing letter to the inspector general, Joseph V. Cuffari, they threatened to “consider alternate measures” if the agency’s watchdog continues “to refuse to comply” with both committees’ requests.
“You have refused to produce responsive documents and blocked employees in your office from appearing for transcribed interviews,” the lawmakers wrote. “Your obstruction of the Committees’ investigations is unacceptable, and your justifications for this noncompliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Congress’s authority and your duties as an Inspector General.”
The letter was signed by House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, and House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat.
The DHS Inspector General’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Thompson, who also chairs the House Jan. 6 committee has been in a tense standoff with Mr. Cuffari since last month when his office revealed that the Secret Service deleted texts from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, which Mr. Thompson says are key to his probe of the Capitol riot.
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He said Mr. Cuffari failed to promptly notify Congress that the Secret Service failed to comply with DHS requests for information and later delayed in notifying lawmakers that the texts had been deleted.
The Secret Service said that the deletion was due to a pre-planned system migration in which the agency’s mobile phones had to be reset to factory settings. Data on some phones were lost during the process, it said.
The agency said the DHS request for its electronic communication was made after the migration was underway, and that the Secret Service notified the IG of the data loss.
The Jan. 6 committee subpoenaed the Secret Service following the revelation by the inspector general, demanding that the agency hand over “relevant text messages, as well as any after action reports that have been issued in any and all divisions of the USSS, pertaining or relating in any way to the events of January 6, 2021.”
Mr. Cuffari also notified the Secret Service that the matter had become a criminal investigation.
Earlier this month, Mr. Thompson requested that two deputy inspector generals appear for transcribed interviews into DHS’ “failure to provide timely and sufficient notification to Congress” of the missing texts.
Last week, Mr. Cuffari refused to provide further information or authorize staff to appear for interviews before Congress on the matter.
In the letter Tuesday, lawmakers said that Mr. Cuffari’s response was inadequate, and accused him of violating the Inspector General Act by failing to hand over key information to Congress regarding the missing texts.
“In light of our grave concerns about your lack of transparency and independence, we urged you to step aside from this critical investigation and allow another IG to complete this work,” they wrote.
They also accused Mr. Cuffari of rebuffing their requests beginning in May following “serious allegations” that Mr. Cuffari withheld from Congress findings that DHS employees committed domestic abuse and sexual harassment.
The alleged misconduct was not related to the Jan. 6 riot.
In a letter on May 10, the lawmakers said the accusations “called into question whether you are able to perform high-quality audit work with integrity, objectivity, and independence, and provide accountability and transparency over government programs and operations,” and demanded that Mr. Cuffari turn over information surrounding the accusations.
In response, the lawmakers said Mr. Cuffari provided their committees with a copy of a letter he sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee in response to a separate inquiry, which they said: “failed to comply with the requests in our May 10, 2022, letter.”
“Among other things, you failed to produce any drafts, working papers, or communications regarding the censored or delayed reports,” Mr. Thompson and Mrs. Maloney wrote.
Mr. Cuffari informed the lawmakers this month that he had requested an opinion from DHS legal counsel about whether he is permitted to release the requested information to Congress, a move the lawmakers said was “highly unusual” and “a delay tactic meant to hamper the Committees’ inquiry.”
“Your failure to comply with our outstanding requests lacks any legal justification and is unacceptable,” the lawmakers wrote. “If you continue to obstruct, we will have no choice but to consider alternate means to ensure compliance.”
• Joseph Clark can be reached at email@example.com.
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