Democrats seek testimony on Secret Service text messages, claiming cover-up

WASHINGTON — Two influential House Democrats called Monday for two officials from the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog to testify before Congress about the agency’s handling of missing Secret Service text messages from the day of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, accusing his office of engaging in a cover-up.

In a letter sent on Monday To Joseph V. Cuffari, the agency’s inspector general, the heads of two congressional committees said they had developed “serious new concerns about its lack of transparency and independence, which appear to be jeopardizing the integrity of a crucial investigation led by the agency.” his office”.

The letter from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from New York and chair of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi and chair of the Homeland Security Committee, renewed the demand they both made last week that the Mr. Cuffari withdraw from the investigation. He also asked that two of the best employees in his office testify this month.

The inspector general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was the latest twist in a drama about what happened to text messages sent and received by Secret Service agents around the time of the Capitol riots.

Last month, Cuffari told the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack that the the messages had been deleted, suggesting that it happened as part of a device replacement program, and that the department had stopped investigating what happened to them because they were the subject of a criminal investigation. He said those whose messages were missing included agents who were part of former President Donald J. Trump’s security detail.

In Monday’s letter, Ms. Maloney and Mr. Thompson, who also heads the January 6 panel, wrote that their committees had obtained “new evidence” that Mr. Cuffari’s office had “secretly abandoned the Efforts to Collect Secret’s Text Messages”. Service for more than a year.” They added that his office “may have taken steps to cover up the extent of the missing records, raising further concerns about his ability to independently and effectively perform his duties as inspector general.”

Legislators letter quoted CNN report that the inspector general learned in May 2021, seven months earlier than previously disclosed, that the Secret Service was missing critical text messages.

The letter also said that the committees had learned that Mr. Cuffari’s office was notified in February that text messages from Chad Wolf and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the two top political officials at the Department of Homeland Security on the 6 January 2021, may not be accessible. They added that the inspector general was also aware that Mr. Cuccinelli was using his personal phone and was also unable to collect messages from that device.

Mr Wolf wrote on Twitter that he “complied with all data retention laws and returned all my fully charged equipment to the Department. Final point. DHS has all my text messages, emails, phone records, schedules, etc. Any issues with missing data should be addressed with DHS.”

Since then, lawmakers have questioned not only the missing text messages, but also why Cuffari didn’t alert Congress sooner or take steps to recover them sooner.

The committees obtained a July 27, 2021, email from Thomas Kait, a deputy inspector general, which said that “we are no longer requesting phone records and text messages from the USSS related to the events of January 6.” He used the abbreviation for the United States Secret Service.

The lawmakers also said their panels had gathered evidence that it wasn’t until four months later, on Dec. 3, 2021, that the inspector general finally submitted a new request to the department for certain text messages.

Mr. Kait, they said, removed key language from a February 2022 memo that highlighted the importance of texting and criticized the department for failing to comply with the December 3, 2021 request.

Ms. Maloney and Mr. Thompson called Mr. Kait and Kristen Fredricks, the office’s chief of staff, to report for transcribed interviews by August 15.

Last month, Cuffari caused a firestorm on Capitol Hill when he reported that the text messages had been deleted, even after he had requested them as part of an investigation into the events of January 6.

The Secret Service disputed parts of the inspector general’s findings, saying it “lost” data on “some phones” as part of a previously planned three-month “system migration” in January 2021, but insisting there was no relevant text. to the investigation. lost in migration.” The agency said the project was underway before it received the inspector general’s notice to preserve their data, and that it did not “maliciously” delete the text messages.

In response, the January 6 committee issued a subpoena to the Secret Service looking for text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, said to have been deleted, as well as any after-action reports.

The Secret Service said it may not be able to retrieve a batch of deleted text messages from phones used by its agents around the time of last year’s attack on Capitol Hill, but it turned over “thousands of pages of documents” and other related records. with decisions taken on January 6.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and a member of the Jan. 6 committee, said it appeared the inspector general “was very slow to report on this appalling situation for a long time.”

“It’s getting to the point where inspectors general need inspectors general,” he said. “It just seems like an outrageous dereliction of duty on their part.”

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