Dems Threaten Homeland Security Watchdog Over 'Obstruction' of Probe Into Secret Service Texts

Homeland Security's inspector general faces a new wave of pressure to step aside or cooperate with congressmen in search of missing Jan. 6 text messages.

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Photo: Anthony Behar (AP)

A week after the extraordinary seizure of classified documents from the former president’s private Mar-a-lago residence, top congressional Democrats are vowing to take aggressive measures of their own to pry loose documents from a combative Trump-era official whom they’ve accused of impeding investigations into deleted Secret Service texts.

In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office published Tuesday, Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Bennie Thompson warned that further defiance on the part of the inspector general, Joseph Cuffari, would force them to consider “alternative measures” meant to “ensure [his] compliance.”

The embattled Cuffari and his staff have reportedly refused to release particular documents or submit to interviews concerning missing Secret Service text messages from Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the Capitol riot. Wide swaths of messages sent by members of the Secret Service on that day, which would be normally archived for review, were deleted. Maloney, chair of the Oversight Committee, and Thompson, chair of the Homeland Security Committee and of the Select Committee investigating the attempted insurrection, made clear in the letter that they consider Cuffari’s recalcitrance an act of “obstruction.”

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The lawmakers said Cuffari’s involvement in the probe of the missing texts raised “serious concerns” because, they allege, he failed to inform lawmakers that the Secret Service was refusing to cooperate with information requests. Cuffari also neglected, they said, to notify lawmakers when he learned the texts had been erased.

“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,” Maloney and Thompson wrote.

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The Secret Service, which operates under Homeland Security, has faced intense scrutiny in recent weeks over the apparent deletion of text messages from the day of the insurrection — a violation of agency policies and federal recordkeeping laws. The agency has claimed publicly the messages were lost during a device-replacement program, though agents were instructed on multiple occasions to back up any messages ahead of the planned migration.

The Secret Secret has denied any intentional wrongdoing. A spokesperson for Cuffari did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The Washington Post reported late last month that two government whistleblowers had provided Congress with information indicating Cuffari had interfered with plans by subordinates to retrieve the devices and have them examined by data specialists.

Cuffari was nominated by Trump in 2018 for the job of DHS inspector general and confirmed by the Senate the following year. He previously served as an advisor to Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona.

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The Post additionally reported last year that Cuffari had blocked an investigation into the Secret Service’s handling of protests at Lafayette Square in June 2020, where crowds were teargassed ahead a photo-op for then-President Trump in front of a nearby church; as well as another probe into whether the Secret Service had defied federal rules enacted to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition to the Secret Service messages, Maloney and Thompson said Cuffari had “sought to censor or delay” the release of reports detailing “troubling findings of domestic abuse and sexual harassment by DHS employees,” as well as communications and drafts related to the investigation. Cuffari reportedly delayed their release while seeking legal advice on whether he was permitted to disclose documents of a deliberative nature.

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The lawmakers said the decision to withhold documents that might reflect internal decisionmaking was “not a valid justification” for withholding them, “particularly where our investigation is focused precisely on potential misconduct in your office.”

“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 lawmakers said.