The Democratic leaders of the House Homeland Security and Oversight committees called on the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to remove himself from the probe of missing Secret Service text messages related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot — alleging that the watchdog may have stopped looking for the texts last year.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) — who also leads the House select committee investigating the riot — accused Inspector General Joseph Cuffari of a “lack of transparency and independence” in their Monday letter.
Maloney and Thompson cited a CNN report from last week that the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) learned that “critical text messages” were missing in May 2021, seven months earlier than initially believed, and failed to inform Congress at the time.
The OIG ultimately revealed last month that the messages had been deleted. However, the two lawmakers said that notice “came roughly 14 months after you reportedly learned that the Secret Service texts were unavailable even though Inspectors General are required by law to ‘immediately’ report problems or abuses that are ‘particularly serious or flagrant.’”
Almost exactly a year ago, on July 27, 2021, Maloney and Thompson noted, Thomas Kait, the deputy IG for inspections and evaluations, wrote an email to Jim Crumpacker, a senior DHS liaison official, indicating that the OIG was retracting its request for the messages.
“Jim, please use this email as a reference to our conversation where I said we no longer request phone records and text messages from the USSS [United States Secret Service] relating to the events on January 6th,” Kait’s email reads.
“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,” wrote Maloney and Thompson, who added that another request for the messages was not made to DHS until December 2021.
The lawmakers also alleged that Kait removed language from a February 2022 memo to DHS “which had highlighted the importance of text messages to the OIG’s investigation and criticized the Department for not complying with the December 3, 2021 request.”
While the original memo stated that “most DHS components have not provided the requested information,” Maloney and Thompson said the revised document read: “On December 17, 2021, we 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.”
Additionally, the two lawmakers flagged recent reports that the OIG had been made aware in February 2022 that text messages from top DHS officials Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli could not be accessed.
“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,” Maloney and Thompson wrote. “Removing yourself from this investigation is even more urgent today.”
The two lawmakers have instructed the OIG to provide all communications related to decisions to not collect the missing text messages, communications related to notifying Congress about the decision, and communications related to the erasure or recovery of the messages from the Secret Service, Wolf and Cuccinelli by Aug. 8.
They have also requested Kait and Deputy Inspector General and chief of staff Kristen Fredricks sit for interviews by Aug. 15.
Maloney and Thompson’s letter comes almost two weeks after the government watchdog launched a criminal investigation into the missing Secret Service texts, which the agency claims were deleted during a data migration.
The Secret Service initially claimed none of the text messages were lost during the migration and stated the initial request for communications was made in February 2021, a month after the migration started.
However, reports later claimed Congress instructed the agency to preserve and produce records related to the riot on Jan. 16, 2021, and again on Jan. 25, 2021 — just two days before the data migration began.
It remains unclear how many relevant messages are missing.