The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general on Monday defended his office against what he called an “onslaught of meritless criticism” as House Democrats alleged a “cover-up” over his handling of missing Jan. 6 text messages of Secret Service agents and DHS leaders.
Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, whose office has been harshly criticized for failing to tell Congress that texts from around the time of the Capitol riot had been wiped from government phones, told colleagues he was “proud” of their “resilience.”
“Because of the U.S. Attorney General guidelines and quality standards, we cannot always publicly respond to untruths and false information about our work,” Cuffari wrote in an email to staff reviewed by Politico. “I am so proud of the resilience I have witnessed in the face of this onslaught of meritless criticism.”
Last week, The Washington Post revealed Cuffari’s office failed to notify Congress over missing records from Chad Wolf, former acting DHS secretary, and Ken Cuccinelli, an acting deputy secretary. The office made no efforts to retrieve the missing texts, according to the Post. The phones of the two former Donald Trump political appointees were reportedly “reset” when they left their government jobs in January 2021, wiping their text messages.
Wolf later contested the Post’s reporting.
“I complied with all data retention laws and returned all my equipment fully loaded to the Department. Full stop,” Wolf wrote on Twitter. “DHS has all my texts, emails, phone logs, schedules, etc. Any issues with missing data needs to be addressed to DHS.”
The inspector general learned in February that Secret Service texts from around the time of the Capitol riot, including those exchanged with agents assigned to Trump, were missing, but failed to alert Congress until recently.
Congressional lawmakers on Monday repeated their call for Cuffari to resign, with some pointing to a CNN report that his office was aware of missing Secret Service agents’ texts seven months earlier than previously known.
In a letter addressed to Cuffari on Monday, Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said they also have new evidence the inspector general’s office stopped trying to recover the missing records over a year ago.
Thompson, who chairs and Jan. 6 committee and the committee on homeland security, and Maloney, chair of the committee on oversight and reform, said their committees obtained a July 2021 email from Thomas Kait, the department’s deputy inspector general, stating “we no longer request phone records and text messages” from the Secret Service “relating to the events on January 6th.”
But four months later, in December 2021, Kait issued a request to DHS for “certain text messages,” the letter continues.
The two Democratic leaders also said Kait amended the original version of a February 2022 memo to DHS that criticized the department for not fully complying with the December request. The memo that was finally released praised the department for its “timely and consolidated response,” and added that more information will be required before their review is complete.
“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,” Thompson and Maloney wrote.
They also took issue with the missing records from Wolf and Cuccinelli, and said Cuffari’s office learned in January that Cuccinelli was using a personal phone but “did not seek to collect messages from this device.”
The committee leaders have requested interviews with Kait and Kristen Fedricks, the inspector general’s chief of staff, by Aug. 15. They also sought additional communications from DHS personnel.
Meanwhile, Olivia Troye, a former DHS official and counterterrorism adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence, told CNN Friday she went public with her resignation in 2020 because she didn’t trust Cuffari’s office.
“There is a reason that I went very public with my concerns about the Trump administration, rather than going through the traditional whistleblower process, which would have led me through the inspector general’s office at DHS,” Troye said.
“And I’ll just say that. So, there’s a level of trust there that you understand,” Troye added.