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Top Democrats, Alleging Cover-Up, Seek Testimony on Secret Service Texts

WASHINGTON — Two influential House Democrats on Monday summoned two officials from the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog to testify before Congress about the agency’s handling of missing Secret Service text messages from the day of the 6th attack. January at the Capitol, accusing their office of a cover-up.

In a letter sent Monday Speaking to Joseph V. Cuffari, the agency’s inspector general, the heads of two congressional committees said they had “developed serious new concerns about your lack of transparency and independence, which appear to jeopardize the integrity of a pivotal investigation of your office.” bring.”

The letter from Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Oversight Committee, and Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and chair of the Homeland Security Committee, renewed a demand the couple made last week that the Mr. Cuffari is stepping down from the investigation. It also called for two of his office’s top employees to testify this month.

The Inspector General’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was the latest twist in a drama about what happened to text messages sent and received by Secret Service agents around the time of the Capitol riots.

Cuffari last month informed the House committee investigating the January 6th attack that the messages had been deleted, suggesting it took place as part of a device replacement program, and that the department had stopped looking at what happened. of them had become the subject of a criminal investigation. He has said that among those whose messages were missing were agents who were part of former President Donald J. Trump’s security detail.

In Monday’s letter, Ms. Maloney and Mr. Thompson, who also lead the Jan. 6 panel, wrote that their committees had obtained “new evidence” that Mr. Cuffari’s office was “secretly attempting to hide text messages from the Secret Service over a year ago.” They added that his office “may have taken steps to cover up the extent of missing data, raising concerns about your ability to perform your duties as an inspector general independently and effectively.”

The letter from the legislators quoted coverage from CNN that the Inspector General learned in May 2021 – seven months earlier than previously announced – that the Secret Service was missing critical text messages.

The letter also stated that the committees had learned that Mr. Cuffari’s office had been notified in February that text messages from Chad Wolf and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the two top political officials of the Department of Homeland Security, had been sent to January 6, 2021, could not be contacted. They added that the Inspector General also knew that Mr. Cuccinelli was using his personal phone and was also unable to collect messages from that device.

mr. Wolf wrote on Twitter that he “complied with all data retention laws and returned all my equipment fully charged to the department. Point. DHS has all my texts, emails, call logs, schedules, etc. Any issues with missing data should be addressed to DHS.

Since then, lawmakers have asked questions not only about the missing text messages, but also why Mr. Cuffari did not warn Congress or take steps to retrieve them sooner.

The commissions received an email from Thomas Kait, a deputy inspector general, on July 27, 2021, stating that “we are no longer requesting phone records and text messages from the USSS regarding the events of January 6.” He used the abbreviation for the American Secret Service.

The lawmakers also said their panels had gathered evidence that it wasn’t until four months later, on December 3, 2021, that the inspector general finally submitted a new request to the department for certain text messages.

Mr Kait, they said, removed key language from a February 2022 memo highlighting the importance of the text messages and criticizing the department for failing to comply with the December 3, 2021 request.

Ms. Maloney and Mr. Thompson called on Mr. Kait and Kristen Fredricks, the office’s chief of staff, to sit down by August 15 for transcribed interviews.

Cuffari sparked a firestorm on Capitol Hill last month when he reported that the text messages had been deleted even after requesting them as part of an investigation into the Jan. 6 events.

The Secret Service disputed parts of the Inspector General’s findings, saying it had “lost” data on “some phones” as part of a pre-planned three-month “system migration” in January 2021, but emphasized that no texts containing regarding the research “had been lost in the migration.” The agency said the project was underway before it received notice from the Inspector General to keep its records, and that it was not “maliciously” deleting text messages.

In response to this, the committee of 6 January a subpoena issued to the secret service looking for text messages dated January 5 and 6, 2021 that have allegedly been deleted, as well as any post-action reports.

The Secret Service said it might not be able to recover a series of deleted text messages from phones used by its agents around the time of the Capitol attack last year, but had “thousands of pages of documents and other data related to decisions made on January 6.

Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and member of the Jan. 6 commission, said it appeared the Inspector General was “extremely late in reporting this egregious situation for a long time.”

“It gets to the point where inspectors general need inspectors general,” he said. “It just seems like an outrageous dereliction of duty on his part.”

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