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House Lawmakers Seek to Question DHS Watchdog Staff on Missing Texts

·4 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Leaders of two House panels want the Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General office to answer questions about what they say are possible attempts to cover up the loss of Secret Service texts tied to the attack on the US Capitol.

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In a letter Monday, Committee on Oversight Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney and Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson also renew their request to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to recuse himself from investigating those missing texts and phone records.

“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 two chairmen write to Cuffari.

They go as far as to tell Cuffari their committees also have documents indicating his office “may have taken steps to cover up the extent of missing records, raising further concerns about your ability to independently and effectively perform your duties as Inspector General.”

Messages left with the inspector general’s office seeking comment weren’t immediately returned.

“We recently called for you to step aside from this matter and for a new IG to be appointed in light of revelations that you had failed to keep Congress informed of your inability to obtain key information from the Secret Service,” the letter states.

“Removing yourself from this investigation is even more urgent today,” they write.

Interviews Sought

Maloney and Thompson also requested that Cuffari’s Deputy Inspector General Thomas Kait and Deputy Inspector General and Chief of Staff Kristen Fredricks submit to transcribed interviews by Aug. 15.

To explain their demands, the chairmen write their panels have obtained a July 27, 2021 email from Kait to another official in which Kait suddenly was advising that the IG was no longer requesting phone records and text messages from the Secret Service “relating to the events of Jan. 6th.”

“It is unclear to the committees why your office chose not to pursue critical information from the Secret Service at this point in this investigation,” Maloney and Thompson write to Cuffari. “Information obtained by the committees indicate that more than four months later, on December 3, 2021, your office finally submitted a new request to DHS for certain text messages.”

But the letter then says the two committees have learned that Kait later removed language from a February memo to DHS employees that had initially emphasized the importance of the text messages to the IG’s investigation -- and criticized the department for not complying with a December 3, 2021, request.

A final version of that same memo was altered with input from “other senior staff members” to remove the reference to text messages and instead it praised the department for its “timely and consolidated response” to its requests, they write.

‘Troubling Concerns’

“These documents raise troubling new concerns that your office not only failed to notify Congress for more than a year that critical evidence in this investigation was missing, but your senior staff deliberately chose not to pursue that evidence and then appear to have taken steps to cover up these failures,” the two chairs write.

The focus on Cuffari has been building since the Jan. 6 committee -- also chaired by Thompson -- announced last month it had been told that texts of 24 Secret Service employees from the day before and the day of the attack had been erased during an equipment upgrade.

The National Archives and Records Administration also announced last month it was investigating what it called the “alleged unauthorized deletion” of those text messages sent by Secret Service officials in the days surrounding the attack.

The focus on lost material intensified last week with reports that texts from two officials from the administration of then-President Donald Trump, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, were also missing.

Maloney and Thompson also request all communications related to any decision by any Inspector General personnel not to collect or recover any text messages in the investigation or notifying Congress about the deletion, erasure, or unavailability of any text messages in this investigation.

They also are seeking all documents “related to the deletion, erasure, unavailability, or recovery of text messages from the Secret Service, Mr. Chad Wolf, and Mr. Ken Cuccinelli in connection with this investigation.”

On Friday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said he was asking the Justice Department to investigate the loss of the text messages from the Secret Service and Trump administration officials.

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