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Cover-up alleged by top Democrats probing missing Secret Service texts; DHS watchdog asked to recuse

Cuffari only last month informed the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack that messages were erased.

He initially claimed the erasure was part of a pre-planned reset of devices at the agency, but questions mounted quickly since the agency was asked explicitly by a slew of congressional committees—and inspector general Cuffari himself—after the Capitol attack to retain their devices and the records therein.

The Secret Service insisted the erasure wasn’t malicious, but a subpoena followed.

The Secret Service responded to that subpoena by providing just a single text to the Jan. 6 committee. It was a message requesting backup between former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and the Secret Service’s uniformed division chief Thomas Sullivan.

Critically, in its response to the subpoena, the Secret Service also disclosed that Cuffari had asked for phone records from 24 Secret Service staff that spanned a time period of roughly one month before the insurrection. Agents who were asked to turn over records included the lead of former President Donald Trump’s security detail, Robert Engel. 

During the select committee’s hearings, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified under oath that when Trump got into his armored car after delivering his inciteful speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, he became irate when informed he would not then be driven to the Capitol. Hutchinson said Trump’s lunged at his driver—Engel—and attempted to wrest control of the steering wheel. When that failed, Hutchinson said Trump reached for Engel’s neck. Importantly, she said Engel shared this with her shortly after it happened, and in the presence of Anthony Ornato, a former Secret Service agent turned Trump’s deputy chief of staff for operations,

The Secret Service dispute Hutchinson’s testimony in part in a public statement, and Engel and Ornato vowed to testify under oath. There is no indication, however, that they have sat for questioning yet.  A committee spokesperson has declined to comment to Daily Kos about this previously and did so again on Tuesday.

In a letter sent last month to Secret Service director James Murray, Cuffari’s deputy Gladys Ayala ordered all investigative activities into the missing texts to cease, including any interviews with potential witnesses or collection of other devices. 

The situation has only grown more curious, however.

CNN was first to report on July 30 that Cuffari had actually learned in May 2021 that the texts were deleted. This is in conflict with what he told the Jan. 6 committee during their most recent meeting. During that session, Cuffari told the panel he only became aware of the missing Secret Service texts in December. 

That seven-month gap prompted Maloney and Thompson’s letter. 

“The [House Oversight Committee and House Homeland Security Committee] have obtained new evidence that your office may have secretly abandoned efforts to collect text messages from the Secret Service more than a year ago,” they wrote. “These documents also indicate that your office may have taken steps to cover up the extent of missing records, raising further concerns about your ability to independently and effectively perform your duties as Inspector General.”

Letter to J. Cuffari From Cmtes by Daily Kos on Scribd

Maloney and Thompson also want information about another batch of missing messages. These are from former officials at the Department of Homeland Security under Trump, including acting secretary Chad Wolf and Wolf’s deputy, Ken Cuccinelli. 

RELATED STORY: There are now missing Jan. 6 textd from the Department of Homeland Security

The Washington Post was first to report last week that Cuffari was notified this February that Wolf and Cuccinelli’s texts were missing as well as messages from Randolph Alles, a former director at the Secret Service who later took over the job as undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security. 

Monday’s letter repeatedly emphasized how it was “unclear” to lawmakers why Cuffari delayed notifying Congress about the deleted texts and why he had failed to notify them earlier about abandoning the investigation into the texts.

A July 27, 2021 email obtained by Maloney and Thompson raised more questions than answers. 

The email was addressed to Jim Crumpacker, a senior liaison at Homeland Security, from Thomas Kait, Cuffari’s deputy. 

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

“It is unclear to the Committees why your office chose not to pursue critical information from the Secret Service at this point in this investigation. Information obtained by the Committees indicate that more than four months later, on December 3, 2021, your office finally submitted a new request to DHS for certain text messages,” Maloney and Thompson wrote.

The lawmakers want to question Kait specifically because they allege he removed key language from a Feb. 4, 2022 memo at DHS that highlighted how important it was to retain texts tied to the inspector general’s investigation. 

The first memo on Feb. 4 read: “To date, most DHS components have not provided the requested information. Text message content is a critical source of information for the DHS OIG review.”

But the revised version, pushed out six days later on Feb. 10, stated:

“On December 17, 2021, we received a timely and consolidated response from each component to our December 3, 2021 request; however, additional and clarifying information is needed before we can complete the review.” 

Other correspondence obtained by Maloney and Thompson showed Kait questioning whether the revisions would be problematic. 

“Am I setting us up for anything by adding what I did?” Kait wrote in an email on Feb. 10. “I spoke with [deputy inspector general chief of staff] Kristen [Fredricks] late last week and she was ok with acknowleding the Department of Audit Liaison’s efforts.”

“These documents raise troubling new concerns that your office not only failed to notify Congress for more than a year that critical evidence in this investigation was missing, but your senior staff deliberately chose not to pursue that evidence and then appear to have taken steps to cover up these failures,” Maloney and Thompson wrote in the letter to inspector general Cuffari on Monday.

Removing Cuffari grows more urgent by the day, they added. 

The House Oversight and House Homeland Security committees have requested Cuffari turn over all communications tied to any decision by the inspector general’s office not to collect or recover texts. The same goes for communications related to notifying Congress about the messages being deleted as well as any mention of deleted texts or their possible recovery involving Chad Wolf or Ken Cuccinelli. 

A spokesperson for the DHS OIG declined to comment to Daily Kos, saying it did not confirm or comment on any ongoing criminal investigations. 

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