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House Reps accuse Homeland Security chief of obstruction

Two House Democrats on Tuesday Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari of obstructing investigations into missing Secret Service text messages related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Department of Homeland Security
Two House Democrats on Tuesday Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari of obstructing investigations into missing Secret Service text messages related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Department of Homeland Security

Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Two House Democrats on Tuesday accused the head of the Department of Homeland Security of obstructing investigations into missing Secret Service text messages related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

House Oversight Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney and House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson co-signed a letter sent Tuesday to Inspector General Joseph Cuffari.

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"You have refused to produce responsive documents and blocked employees in your office from appearing for transcribed interviews. 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," the letter reads.

"If you continue to refuse to comply with our requests, we will have no choice but to consider alternate measures to ensure your compliance."

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The letter accuses Cuffari, who has held the office since 2019, of failing to "promptly notify Congress of crucial information on the Secret Service's erasure of text messages related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol." It also says Cuffari failed to gather text messages from relevant officials following the attack.

In July, a government watchdog said in a letter to lawmakers that the Secret Service erased a number of text messages from Jan. 6, as well as the day before.

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At the time, House Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said she was "shocked to hear" that the agency did not back up its data before what Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi called a "pre-planned, three-month system migration."

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"The possibility that responsive documents may reflect the deliberations of your office is not a valid justification for withholding these documents from Congress, particularly where our investigation is focused precisely on potential misconduct in your office," reads the letter, adding it sees Cuffari's late request for outside legal counsel as a delay tactic meant to hamper the inquiry.

Thompson and Maloney's letter also casts light on correspondence from Cuffari which it regards as stonewalling.

In a letter dated Aug. 8 sent to the two committee members, Cuffari writes that "to protect the integrity of our work and preserve our independence, we do not share information about ongoing matters, like the information you requested in your letters. Similarly, we do not authorize our staff to sit for transcribed interviews with your committee about these ongoing matters."

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Last Thursday, a non-profit group revealed that top officials at the DHS quashed a warning to Congress that Secret Service texts from the days surrounding the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol had been deleted.

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The Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, shared a report showing that Cuffari approved five detailed paragraphs alerting lawmakers to the deletion of the texts on April 1 but the warning never appeared in a public report that was eventually sent to Congress in June.

Tuesday's letter also mentions Congress' previous correspondence with Cuffari, concerning censoring findings of domestic abuse and sexual harassment by DHS employees.

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