Key Dems: DHS watchdog should step aside in Secret Service probe

In the intensifying controversy surrounding the U.S. Secret Service’s missing Jan. 6 texts, it might seem at first blush as if Joseph Cuffari helped expose a serious problem. After all, he’s Department of Homeland Security inspector general who told lawmakers that he tried to obtain the messages, only to be told that they’d been erased.

What’s more, Cuffari is the same DHS watchdog who said his office had opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the Secret Service’s text messages.

But just below the surface, there are problematic details. The Washington Post reported, for example, that this same inspector general’s office — which has oversight authority over the Secret Service, and is led by a Trump appointee — knew months ago about the purged texts, but didn’t tell Congress until very recently.

It was against this backdrop that the Washington Post reported yesterday that key congressional Democrats don’t want Cuffari overseeing the Secret Service probe.

A pair of key congressional Democrats called on Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to step aside from his office’s investigation into the Secret Service on Tuesday, saying the Trump appointee knew earlier than has been reported that the agency deleted text messages from around the time of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the Democratic chair of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the Democratic chair of the Jan. 6 committee and the Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter yesterday to Cuffari and Allison Lerner, who leads the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

The House committee chairs didn’t call for his resignation, but they did request that a separate investigator be appointed to lead the probe into the erased Secret Service texts.

“Inspector General Cuffari’s actions in this matter, which follow other troubling reports about his conduct as Inspector General, cast serious doubt on his independence and his ability to effectively conduct such an important investigation,” they wrote.

The letter added, “Due to the nature and importance of this investigation, there must be no doubt that the Inspector General leading this investigation can conduct it thoroughly and with integrity, objectivity, and independence. We do not have confidence that Inspector General Cuffari can achieve those standards.”

As for the reference to “other troubling reports,” The Post also reported last year that Cuffari “blocked investigations proposed by career staff last year to scrutinize [the Secret Service’s] handling of the George Floyd protests in Lafayette Square and the spread of the coronavirus in its ranks.”

A press statement from Maloney and Thompson added yesterday that they wrote letters “in March 2020, concerning Inspector General Cuffari’s handling of investigative reports and in May 2022, concerning reports that he sought to censor findings of domestic abuse and sexual harassment by DHS employees.”

So far, the Homeland Security inspector general does not appear to have responded to the lawmakers’ request, though I don’t imagine we’ve heard the last of this one.