WASHINGTON– Top Democrats in Congress have requested interviews and internal documents from the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security as part of a full investigation into the agency’s handling of now-suppressed Secret Service text messages surrounding the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Leaders of the powerful House Oversight and Homeland Security Committees wrote a letter to Inspector General Joseph Cuffari on Monday, detailing the urgent need for interviews with his staff regarding new evidence of alleged efforts to cover up the erasure of Secret Service communications.
“We write with renewed concern about your lack of transparency and independence, which appears to jeopardize the integrity of a crucial investigation conducted by your office,” House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney wrote. and Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson in the letter. They also renewed their calls for Cuffari to recuse himself from investigations into the deleted texts.
The committees said they had obtained evidence that shows the Inspector General’s office was first made aware of the missing Secret Service text messages, as part of its investigation into the attack on the US Capitol in May 2021. And that emails between senior DHS IG officials show the agency decided to abandon efforts to retrieve those text messages in July 2021, nearly a year before it first briefed Congress. that they had been erased.
“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 those failures,” the letter continued.
Cuffari sent a letter to both committees last month revealing that Secret Service text messages sent and received around January 6, 2021 were deleted despite requests from Congress and federal investigators to preserve them.
The deletion of the posts raised the prospect of lost evidence that could shed more light on then-President Donald Trump’s actions during the insurgency, particularly after testimony about his confrontation with security as he attempted to join supporters at the Capitol. Since that July 19 letter, a series of revelations about the mishandling of such communications by the Secret Service and DHS have come to light, prompting a congressional investigation into the matter.
Monday’s letter noted an email, dated July 27, 2021, in which Thomas Kait, the deputy IG, wrote to Jim Crumpacker, a senior liaison officer at DHS: “Jim, please use this email as reference to our conversation where I said that we no longer request phone records and text messages from the USSS (United States Secret Service) regarding the events of January 6th.
Lawmakers said they wanted to know why surveillance officials chose “not to seek critical information from the Secret Service at this stage of this investigation” and only decided to renew their request to DHS for certain SMS that more than four months later, in December. 2021.
Lawmakers also revealed Monday that Ken Cuccinelli, who served as acting assistant secretary of DHS on Jan. 6, was using a home phone at the time, but the inspector general did not report that fact to Congress. Cuccinelli’s texts, as well as those of acting secretary Chad Wolf, were also reportedly erased.
Lawmakers demanded that the IG office hand over by August 8 all documents and communications related to the decision not to collect or retrieve text messages and related to the deletion, erasure, unavailability or SMS recovery from Secret Service, Wolf, and Cuccinelli.
The committees also asked the agency to make Kait and fellow Deputy Inspector General Kristen Fredricks available for transcribed interviews no later than August 15.