Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, has said he will not recuse himself from a probe of Secret Service text messages tied to Jan. 6 that were deleted, despite multiple requests from Congress that they be retained.
Cuffari relayed his decision to members of the House Oversight and House Homeland Security Committees in a letter dated Aug. 8. Cuffari said he would not step down from the internal probe because doing so would “upend the very independence that Congress has established for Inspectors General” and potentially burden witnesses in the internal investigation.
Cuffari just a week ago told members of Congress he would seek legal advice about remitting internal records to Congress before he would cooperate.
Not only will he not recuse, but according to his new public letter, the inspector general further said he would not allow members of his staff to sit for transcribed interviews, as committees first requested on Aug 1.
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Cuffari Response to Step Down by Daily Kos on Scribd
Cuffari’s refusal to step aside was made public when Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Bennie Thompson, who separately chair the House Oversight Committee and House Homeland Security Committee, published their response to the Trump-appointed inspector general.
“Your obstruction of the Committees’ investigations is unacceptable, and your justifications for this noncompliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Congress’s authority and your duties as an Inspector General. If you continue to refuse to comply with our requests, we will have no choice but to consider alternate measures to ensure your compliance,” Maloney and Thompson wrote.
It was only last month that Cuffari told the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack that the Secret Service texts had been deleted.
At first, the watchdog said the messages were erased as a part of a pre-planned, agency-wide device reset and that he had only learned they were lost in December 2021. Cuffari also lamented a lack of cooperation from the Secret Service.
But Cuffari, it turns out, knew about the missing messages far before then. He learned of them in May 2021. Yet, for 14 months, he failed to notify anyone of his findings, as required under law.
He “abandoned” the review, Maloney and Thompson wrote.
When he met with members of the Jan. 6 committee this July, Cuffari quickly ordered a criminal probe into the missing texts and directed the Secret Service to stop its own forensic search while the matter was under review internally.
The missing Jan. 6 texts are just one of many issues Maloney and Thompson have with the inspector general.
In their letter, they noted how he has long failed to comply with congressional requests for documents and, in particular, those related to sexual harassment and domestic abuse allegations raised by staff at the Department of Homeland Security. There are mounting concerns that Cuffari allows staff to work “with independence and objectivity.”
“Full compliance with our requests is necessary,” Maloney and Thompson. citing, among various other legal precedents, the rights of Congress established by the Supreme Court in Hutcheson v. United States in 1962.
“Legislative inquires need not yield to parallel proceedings, even if those proceedings are criminal in nature,” the high court found.
Cuffari should respond by Aug. 23, the committee chairs wrote.
They also ordered Cuffari’s deputy inspector generals, Thomas Kait and Kristen Fredricks, to appear by that date, as well.
RELATED STORY: A curious draft: Records show warning on missing Jan. 6 texts removed from watchdog report
Cuffari’s appointment was reportedly under the scrutiny of President Joe Biden in recent weeks. Anonymous sources told The Independent that Biden was taking a greater interest in Cuffari, but things have since been quiet. A spokesperson for the White House did not return multiple requests for comment to Daily Kos.