WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general has refused congressional requests for documents and staff testimony in regards to the erasure of Secret Service communication related to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, angering top Democrats who accuse him of unlawfully obstructing their investigation.
In an Aug. 8 letter disclosed Tuesday, Inspector General Joseph Cuffari told the leaders of the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees that his office won’t comply with their requests for internal documents and sit-down interviews on account of the continued criminal investigation into deleted Secret Service text messages.
In response, House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney and Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson sent a letter Tuesday demanding Cuffari turn over documents and make his staff available to lawmakers or risk facing a possible congressional subpoena.
“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,” Maloney and Thompson wrote within the letter.
“In case you proceed to refuse to comply with our requests, we can have no selection but to think about alternate measures to make sure your compliance,” they wrote.
It’s just the newest back-and-forth over the text messages since mid-July, when Cuffari sent a letter to Congress disclosing that Secret Service text messages sent and received around Jan. 6, 2021, were deleted despite requests from Congress and federal investigators that they be preserved.
Since then, the 2 House committees say they’ve obtained evidence that shows the inspector general’s office first learned of the missing Secret Service text messages as a part of its investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol, in May 2021. They are saying emails between top Homeland Security IG officials show the agency — which oversees the Secret Service — decided to desert efforts to recuperate those text messages in July 2021, nearly a yr before they first informed Congress they were erased.
Lawmakers want answers to why watchdog officials selected “to not pursue critical information from the Secret Service at this point on this investigation,” and only decided to renew their request to to DHS for certain text messages greater than 4 months later in December 2021.
The erasure of the messages has raised the prospect of lost evidence that would shed further light on then-President Donald Trump’s actions throughout the riot, particularly after testimony about his confrontation with security as he tried to affix supporters on the Capitol. There are actually two congressional probes into the Secret Service and the DHS handling of those communications.
The missing texts are also at the middle of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, of which Thompson is the chairman.
The Secret Service has since turned over a lot of records and documents to the committee investigating the Capitol riot, but just one text message between agents on the day before the attack and as a mob of rioters breached the Capitol constructing on Jan. 6.
The Secret Service has insisted that proper procedures were followed. Agency spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said last month that “the insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is fake.”
Maloney and Thompson told Cuffari that his “failure to comply with our outstanding requests lacks any legal justification and is unacceptable.”
They gave his office until Aug. 23 to supply “all responsive documents” and make personnel available for interviews before lawmakers issue a congressional subpoena.