Democrats seek testimony on Secret Service texts, alleging cover-up

WASHINGTON — Two influential House Democrats on Monday asked two officials from the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog to testify before Congress about the agency’s handling of missing Secret Service text messages since the day of January 6 attack on the Capitol, accusing their office of engaging in a cover-up.

In a letter sent Monday to Joseph V. Cuffari, the agency’s inspector general, the heads of two congressional committees said they had developed “serious new concerns about your lack of transparency and independence, which appear to jeopardize the ‘integrity of a crucial investigation by your office’.

The letter from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and chair of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and chair of the Homeland Security Committee, renewed a request the couple made last week that Mr. Cuffari withdraw from the investigation. He also called two of his office’s top employees to testify this month.

The inspector general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was the latest twist in a drama about what happened to text messages sent and received by Secret Service agents around the time of the Capitol Riot.

Mr. Cuffari told the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack last month that the messages have been deleted, suggesting that it happened as part of a device replacement program and that the ministry had stopped looking into what happened to them because they were under a criminal investigation. He said those whose messages were missing included officers who were part of former President Donald J. Trump’s security detail.

In Monday’s letter, Ms. Maloney and Mr. Thompson, who also lead the Jan. 6 panel, wrote that their committees had obtained “new evidence” that Mr. Cuffari’s office had “secretly abandoned efforts to collect text messages from the Secret”. Service over a year ago. They added that his office “may have taken steps to conceal the extent of the missing records, which raises further concerns about your ability to independently and effectively perform your duties as Inspector General.”

The Letter from the Legislators quoted report from CNN that the Inspector General learned in May 2021 – seven months earlier than previously revealed – that the Secret Service was short of critical text messages.

The letter also said the committees had learned that Mr. Cuffari’s office had been informed in February that text messages from Chad Wolf and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the two top policymakers in the Department of Homeland Security on January 6, 2021 , might not be accessible. They added that the Inspector General was also aware that Mr. Cuccinelli was using his personal phone and that he had not collected messages from that device either.

Mr. Wolf wrote on Twitter that he “has complied with all data retention laws and returned all of my fully loaded equipment to the Department. Full stop. DHS has all my texts, emails, phone logs, schedules, etc. Any issues with missing data should be directed to DHS.

Since then, lawmakers have raised questions not only about the missing text messages, but also about why Mr. Cuffari did not alert Congress sooner or take action to retrieve them sooner.

The committees obtained a July 27, 2021 email from Thomas Kait, an assistant inspector general, stating that “we are no longer requesting phone and text records from the USSS regarding the events of January 6.” He used the abbreviation for United States Secret Service.

Lawmakers also said their panels gathered evidence that it wasn’t until four months later, on Dec. 3, 2021, that the inspector general finally submitted a new request to the department for certain text messages.

Mr. Kait, they said, removed key language from a February 2022 memo that stressed the importance of text messages and criticized the department for not complying with the Dec. 3, 2021 request.

Ms Maloney and Mr Thompson asked Mr Kait and Kristen Fredricks, the office’s chief of staff, to sit down for transcribed interviews by August 15.

Mr. Cuffari sparked a firestorm on Capitol Hill last month when he reported that the text messages had been deleted, even after requesting them as part of an investigation into the Jan. 6 events.

The Secret Service disputed parts of the inspector general’s findings, saying they had “lost” data on “some phones” as part of a planned three-month “system migration” in January 2021, but insisting that no text relevant to the investigation “had been lost in the migration. The agency said the project was underway before it received advice from the Inspector General to retain her data, and that she did not “maliciously” delete the text messages.

In response, the January 6 committee issued a subpoena to the secret service looking for text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, which have allegedly been deleted, as well as any after-action reports.

The Secret Service said it might not be able to recover a batch of text messages deleted from the phones used by its agents at the time of the attack on the Capitol last year, but had delivered “thousands of pages of documents” and other records related to decisions made on January 6.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and Jan. 6 committee member, said it appears the inspector general “has been extremely late in reporting this egregious situation for a long time.”

“We are getting to the point where inspectors general need inspectors general,” he said. “It looks like an outrageous dereliction of duty on his part.”

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