DHS watchdog halted efforts to obtain missing text messages from Secret Service and Trump officials

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) watchdog has dropped its efforts to recover missing text messages from its various agencies deleted in the wake of Jan. 6 and played down its criticism of those who did not. products, according to emails released by lawmakers.

The evidence, released Monday by the House Oversight and Homeland Security Committees, was accompanied by a new call for Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to step down from his investigations into how DHS agencies responded to the January 6 attack.

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

The panel said it also obtained evidence that Cuffari’s office did not attempt to search for records from a former DHS official’s personal cell phone.

The letter marks the second time in a week that Rep. Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.), chair of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, have asked for Cuffari to withdraw from the investigation.

“Withdrawing from this investigation is even more urgent today,” they wrote.

The committees’ letter offers more details following a Friday report from The Washington Post describing how Cuffari’s office halted efforts to retrieve or obtain text messages from Secret Service or senior Trump-era DHS officials.

Cuffari first informed lawmakers earlier this month that some Secret Service agents’ text messages had been “erased” as part of a device replacement program. (The agency maintains that any text messages that might be missing were lost during a software transition.)

Documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight also indicate that Cuffari was unable to obtain a text message from Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf or his deputy Ken Cuccinelli.

In each case, Cuffari had known for months that the messages were lost and told lawmakers only about problems with the Secret Service, a potential violation of laws governing inspectors general that require prompt notification of “particularly serious or flagrant abuses.” “laws on public records. .

“Your July 13, 2022 letter failed to mention that a year earlier, and only six weeks after you initially requested text messages from Secret Service personnel, senior officials in your office ordered the Department of Homeland Security ( DHS) that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) no longer required Secret Service text messages as part of its investigation of the Jan. 6 attack,” the committees wrote.

Both panels obtained emails from Cuffari’s deputy, Thomas Kait, directing a liaison to stop efforts to obtain text messages.

“Jim, please use this email as a reference to our conversation where I said we are no longer requesting phone and text recordings from the USSS [United States Secret Service] regarding the events of January 6,” Kait wrote on July 27.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) would backtrack some four months later and look for some of the messages, but as the watchdog hit a wall to get them, this alleviated the problem in a memo. agency services.

A February document initially noted that the OIG had failed to obtain the requested information. But Kait and others tweaked the document, instead writing that they “received a timely and consolidated response from each component to our December 3, 2021 request; however, additional and clarifying information is needed before we can complete the reviews.

Other information obtained by the committee indicates that Cuffari’s office has known since January that Cuccinelli used his home phone for DHS business, “yet your office did not seek to harvest messages from this device,” did he declare.

Neither Cuffari’s office nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to request for comment.

The letter asks Cuffari to turn over all communications regarding the decision not to proceed with the text messages, as well as all emails relating to their decision to finally notify Congress of the missing messages.

Concerns about Cuffari go beyond the two panels.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to step in and resume the Jan. 6 investigation at DHS. Thompson’s other committee, the House panel investigating the riot, also released a letter to Cuffari saying he likely violated the law by not ensuring faster notification of missing documents.

Update: 5:18 p.m.

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