Top lawmakers renew calls on DHS IG to recuse himself from probe of missing texts, citing CNN report

Top lawmakers renew calls on DHS IG to recuse himself from probe of missing texts, citing CNN report
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House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and House Homeland Security Chairman Benny Thompson reiterated their call for the resignation in a letter Monday to Inspector General Joseph Caffery, citing “concerns about your lack of transparency and independence, which appears to threaten the integrity of an institution.” Important investigations conducted by your office.”

Maloney and Thompson are also demanding transcribed interviews with key DHS IG staff. CNN first reported that DHS inspector general investigators dropped efforts to retrieve lost Secret Service text messages in July 2021, a year before Congressional Oversight Committees raised concerns over Secret Service and DHS transparency.

“The committees have found new evidence that your office secretly abandoned efforts to collect text messages from the Secret Service more than a year ago,” the letter said. “These documents also indicate that your office may have taken steps to cover up 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 are requesting a slate of communications and documents by Monday, from correspondence related to any decision not to collect or retrieve communications text messages to notifying Congress.

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

“Whether it’s material to the January 6 episode or not, it’s about the destruction of critical evidence. The fact that this person, Joseph Kaffery, as inspector general, couldn’t get information that should have been transferred from the administration to another and to Congress or the agency he was working for. By not reporting it properly, we could jeopardize some very critical evidence in terms of the historical record on January 6, and he treated it almost as a routine event highlighted,” Durbin told CNN’s Don Lemon.

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

Watchdog protects itself

However, in an internal email obtained by staff at the government-sponsored project and shared with CNN, Kafari defended himself and praised them for their work amid “an onslaught of unqualified criticism.”

“Over the past few weeks, the DHS OIG has been the subject of a great deal of public speculation,” Kaffery told staff in an email obtained by the Government Oversight Project and shared with CNN.

“Due to the US Attorney General’s guidelines and standards, we cannot always publicly respond to false and misleading information about our work,” he wrote. “I’m proud of the resilience I’ve seen in the face of this onslaught of unqualified criticism.”

The email, sent at 2:28 p.m. Monday, arrived shortly before House Democrats accused Caffari’s office of falsifying and omitting investigative information about the missing probe into the text messages of Secret Service and top DHS officials.

The letter shows that DHS Deputy Inspector General, Thomas Kite, wrote an email to DHS Senior Liaison, Jim Crumpacker, on July 27, 2021, advising that DHS investigators were no longer looking into the text messages. Keit is one of the workers the committee now wants to interview.

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

The letter confirms CNN reporting that the investigation into the text messages was reopened in December 2021.

The lawmakers said in Monday’s letter that Kite removed “key language” from a February DHS memo to explain the significance of the text messages in the inspector general’s investigation. The original memo noted that most DHS components did not provide the requested information and noted that the content of the text messages was “an important source of information for DHS OIG review,” but the final version contrasted that by saying they had received responses, the letter said.

“These documents raise troubling new concerns that your office failed to tell Congress for more than a year that key evidence was missing from this investigation, while your senior staff deliberately chose not to pursue that evidence and then took steps to cover it up. These failures,” the letter said.

It cites missing text messages for two top Homeland Security officials under former President Donald Trump — Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. Information obtained by the committee indicates that the inspector general’s office was aware 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 story

Monday’s letter is another twist in the ongoing saga of the missing message on January 6.

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

“The Department is committed to supporting the OIG’s mission. DHS employees are expected to cooperate with OIG audits, inspections, investigations, and other inquiries. Any attempt to withhold information or prevent the OIG from performing its critical work is against departmental directives and may . leads to serious consequences,” the memo says.

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

“I therefore direct the Department and its components to respond promptly and thoroughly to any Select Committee request,” the memo said. “Such cooperation and transparency are vital to the department’s responsibility to protect our nation and its fundamental democratic principles.”

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