Text messages — or, rather, the lack thereof — have plagued investigations into the events of January 6, 2021, and now, missing messages from top Trump-appointed officials within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are stirring up new questions about the failure of the agency’s watchdog to inform officials of the potential destruction of relevant records.
A document obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan independent watchdog tasked with investigating government waste and corruption, has revealed that the text messages of former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, can not be found — an indication that the Secret Service is not alone in its difficulties with record retention.
Secret Service discovers records of potential deleted Jan 6 text messages on phones of 10 agents, report https://t.co/dXNrQHXcHI
— American Wire News (@americanwire_) July 25, 2022
First reported in The Washington Post, the message, sent to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari in late February, shows that, in multiple instances, DHS’s top watchdog declined to inform lawmakers of the missing texts, despite knowing as early as last December that the messages were irretrievable.
Cuffari stated in February that he would assist in the effort to produce deleted Secret Service text messages, but according to several sources, he later changed his mind and called off the search.
“In early February, after learning the Secret Service’s text messages had been erased as part of a migration to new devices, staff at Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari’s office planned to contact all DHS agencies offering to have data specialists help retrieve messages from their phones, according to two government whistleblowers who provided reports to Congress,” The Post reports. “But later that month, Cuffari’s office decided it would not collect or review any agency phones, according to three people briefed on the decision.”
Cuffari has been under attack from Democratic lawmakers who claim Cuffari’s office has not been sufficiently aggressive in its investigation of the agency’s response to events on January 6 at the Capitol.
In a letter this month to the House and Senate Homeland Security committees, Cuffari stated that Secret Service text messages from the crucial time leading up to and including Jan. 6 were “erased,” but he didn’t immediately mention the other missing texts or the fact that his office reportedly knew the texts were gone in December and the phones were not examined.
“To preserve the integrity of our work and consistent with U.S. Attorney General guidelines, DHS OIG does not confirm the existence of or otherwise comment about ongoing reviews or criminal investigations, nor do we discuss our communications with Congress,” a spokesperson for Cuffari’s office said in a Friday night statement.
According to DHS spokeswoman Marsha Espinosa, the agency is cooperating with the investigation and is “looking into every avenue to recover text messages and other materials for the Jan. 6 investigations.”
And as American Wire reported, Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi has refuted the notion that the agency maliciously deleted any requested text messages.
“The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false. In fact, the Secret Service has been fully cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) in every respect – whether it be interviews, documents, emails, or texts,” he stated.
Secret Service fires back over accusations it erased text messages on Jan. 6 https://t.co/IUzPpbgz5l
— American Wire News (@americanwire_) July 16, 2022
Cuffari’s perceived failures to properly secure and produce records and to keep investigators informed resulted in a Tuesday letter from Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of both the House Homeland Security Committee and the Jan. 6 Committee, and Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) in which they declared they “do not have confidence” in Cuffari’s ability to conduct the investigation.
On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), joined the choir, calling the missing text messages “an extremely serious matter” and asking the Justice Department to “step in.”
“Inspector General Cuffari’s failure to take immediate action upon learning that these text messages had been deleted makes clear that he should no longer be entrusted with this investigation,” Durbin stated. “That’s why I’m sending a letter today to Attorney General Garland asking him to step in and get to the bottom of what happened to these text messages and hold accountable those who are responsible.”
Cuffari was given until August 9 to respond to the lawmakers.
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