Democratic chairs of the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees said in a letter to DHS inspector general Joseph Cuffari on Monday that they obtained new evidence showing that his office may have “secretly abandoned efforts” to collect text messages from the Secret Service more than a year ago and that it possibly took steps to “cover up the extent” of the missing records.
The top Dems also renewed their calls for Cuffari recuse himself from the investigation into the deleted Secret Service text messages around Jan. 6.
House Oversight chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Homeland Security chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) — who also chairs the Jan. 6 Select Committee — said it wrote to Cuffari with “grave new concerns over your lack of transparency and independence” in his office’s probe into the missing text messages.
The chairs noted that Cuffari told Congress in a letter for the first time last month that Secret Service text messages from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021 had been deleted. The Dem chairs said Cuffari’s letter failed to mention that a year earlier, senior officials in his office instructed the DHS that the office of inspector general no longer needed Secret Service text messages as part of its probe related to the Capitol insurrection, citing emails on July 27, 2021 from Cuffari’s deputy, Thomas Kait, to a liaison.
After saying that it is unclear to the committees why Cuffari’s office decided against pursuing more information from the Secret Service at that point, information obtained by the committees show that Cuffari’s office issued a new request in Dec. 2021 to DHS for certain text messages, four months after abandoning efforts.
The committees also obtained evidence that Kait removed “key language” from a Feb. 2022 memo to DHS, which noted the importance of the Secret Service text messages to the inspector general’s probe and criticized the DHS for failing to fulfill the Dec. 2021 request from Cuffari’s office.
The committees also found that Kait appeared to work with other senior staffers in Cuffari’s office to alter the Feb, 2022 memo “to remove the reference to text messages and instead praise the Department for its responses.”
“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,” Maloney and Thomas wrote.
The committees request transcribed interviews with key DHS inspector general staffers by Aug. 15. They also request a set of communications and documents by next Monday, which includes any communications related to any decisions to not collect or recover any text messages.
Maloney and Thompson’s letter comes days after the Washington Post reported that the DHS informed Cuffari in late February that texts sent and received by Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, who served as former President Trump’s top DHS officials, were missing. Cuffari, however, did not report that to Congress at the time.
The Post reported that in the DHS’ report to Cuffari, the department claimed that the records had been erased due to a reset of Wolf and Cuccinelli’s phones after they departed the Trump administration in January last year.