Top lawmakers renew call for DHS IG to recuse himself from probe of missing texts, citing CNN reports

Top lawmakers renew call for DHS IG to recuse himself from probe of missing texts, citing CNN reports
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House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and House Homeland Security Chairman Benny Thompson reiterated their call for Inspector General Joseph Kufari to step down in a letter Monday, citing concerns about “your lack of transparency and independence, which appears jeopardizes the integrity of a crucial investigation led by your office.”

Maloney and Thompson also requested transcribed interviews with key DHS IG officials. CNN first reported that DHS inspectors general abandoned efforts to recover the missing Secret Service text messages in July 2021, a year before Kufari raised concerns about Secret Service and DHS transparency before congressional oversight committees .

“The committees have received new evidence that your office may have secretly abandoned efforts to collect Secret Service text messages more than a year ago,” the letter said. “These documents also indicate that your office may have taken steps to conceal the extent of the missing records, raising further concerns about your ability to independently and effectively carry out your duties as Inspector General (IG).”

The committees requested a range of communications and documents by Monday, ranging from correspondence related to any decisions not to collect or recover text messages to communications related to notifying Congress.

Sen. Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, on Monday reiterated his call for the Justice Department to investigate the missing text messages.

“It is about the destruction of critical evidence, whether it is material to the January 6 episode or not. The fact that this man, Joseph Kufari, as inspector general, could not get the information that should have been transferred from one administration to the other and did not properly report it to Congress or to the agency where he worked, we may have endangered some very critical evidence when it comes to the historical record of January 6th and he treats it as almost a routine event rather than something that should have been highlighted,” Durbin told CNN’s Don Lemon.

In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General said it “does not discuss ongoing administrative reviews and does not confirm the existence of or otherwise comment on criminal investigations.”

The guard dog defends itself

However, in an internal email to employees obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with CNN, Kufari defended himself and praised them for their work amid “an onslaught of unhelpful criticism.”

“Over the past several weeks, the DHS OIG has been the subject of a tremendous amount of public speculation,” Kuffari told staff in an email obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with CNN.

“Due to US Attorney General guidelines and quality standards, we cannot always publicly respond to falsehoods and misinformation about our work,” he wrote. “I’m so proud of the resilience I’ve witnessed in the face of this onslaught of unhelpful criticism.”

The email, sent at 2:28 p.m. Monday, came shortly before key House Democrats accused Cuffari’s office of tampering with and leaking information about the investigation into the missing Secret Service text messages and top DHS officials.

The letter shows that DHS Deputy Inspector General Thomas Kite wrote an email to DHS Senior Liaison Officer Jim Crumpacker on July 27, 2021, advising DHS investigators to no longer search for text messages. Kait is one of the employees the committee wants to interview now.

“Jim, please use this email as a reference to our conversation where I said we no longer require USSS phone records and text messages [United States Secret Service] in relation to the events of January 6,” the email said, according to the letter.

The letter also confirms CNN’s announcement that the verification of text messages resumed in December 2021.

The lawmakers said in Monday’s letter that Kait also removed “key language” from a memorandum to DHS in February emphasizing the importance of the text messages to the inspector general’s investigation. The original memo mentioned that most DHS components did not provide the requested information and noted that the contents of the text message were a “critical source of information for the DHS OIG review,” but the final version indicated otherwise, saying they had received answered, according to a letter.

“These documents raise troubling new concerns that not only did your office fail to notify Congress for more than a year that critical evidence was missing from this investigation, but that your senior staff deliberately chose not to pursue that evidence and then appeared to take steps to cover it up these failures,” the letter stated.

It further cited missing text messages for former President Donald Trump’s two top Homeland Security officials — Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. Information obtained by the committee revealed that the inspector general’s office knew in February that those messages could not be accessed, but did not notify Congress. CNN has reached out to Cuccinelli for comment.

The latest twist in the saga

Monday’s letter is another twist in the ongoing saga of the missing messages around Jan. 6. Memos obtained by CNN show that the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly reminded the task force to comply with the inspector general and relevant Hill committees.

After the Office of Inspector General raised concerns with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about compliance with the requests, the secretary issued a September 2021 memo to the workforce saying employees should cooperate with interviews and provide information.

“The Department is committed to supporting the mission of the OIG. DHS officials are expected to cooperate with OIG audits, inspections, investigations, and other investigations. Any effort to withhold information or impede the OIG from doing its critical work is against department directives and could result in serious consequences,” the memo said.

Then, in October 2021, DHS General Counsel Jonathan Meyer issued a memo specifically dated January 6, 2021, saying the office was cooperating with the House Select Committee investigating the riot on Capitol Hill.

“Therefore, I direct the department and its components to respond expeditiously and thoroughly to all special committee requests they receive,” the memo said. “Such cooperation and transparency are vital to the Department’s duty to protect our nation and its founding democratic principles.”

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