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House Democrats call for a new inspector general in Secret Service text investigation

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., speaks to members of the media after a House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack hearing last month.
J. Scott Applewhite
/
AP
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., speaks to members of the media after a House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack hearing last month.

The heads of the Jan. 6 committee and the House Oversight Committee are calling for a new inspector general to lead the investigation into erased Secret Service text messages related to the Capitol insurrection.

In a letter sent Tuesday to the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General and the head of the Council of Inspectors General (CIGIE), Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney raise concerns about DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari's "failure to inform Congress of deleted Secret Service text messages in a timely manner despite being required by law to 'immediately' report problems or abuses that are 'particularly serious or flagrant.' "

Thompson — who heads both the committee on Homeland Security and the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot — and Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, request that Cuffari step aside and CIGIE appoint a new inspector general to investigate the erased Secret Service text messages.

"These omissions left Congress in the dark about key developments in this investigation and may have cost investigators precious time to capture relevant evidence," the letter states. "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."

Controversy over the erased texts has intensified recently as lawmakers and agencies seek answers to what was in the messages and why they were deleted.

On Jan. 16, 2021, Maloney and Thompson, along with other committee chairs, wrote a letter to DHS and other agencies requesting that they produce to the committees documents and materials that relate to the Jan. 6 insurrection. The following month, the DHS Office of Inspector General requested records of electronic communications from the Secret Service for its own investigation into the Jan. 6 attack.

"Despite the legal obligation to preserve those records, the Secret Service reportedly undertook a system migration process on January 27, 2021, that caused the erasure of text messages related to the January 6 insurrection," according to Tuesday's letter.

And NPR has independently confirmed that the Secret Service is in receipt of the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's letter issued last week that notified the agency of a criminal investigation into erased text messages by the agency's watchdog branch. The letter was first reported by CNN and NBC News.

"We have informed the January 6 Select Committee of the Inspector General's request and will conduct a thorough legal review to ensure we are fully cooperative with all oversight efforts and that they do not conflict with each other," a Secret Service spokesperson told NPR, adding that the agency is in the middle of cooperating with a select committee subpoena and a National Archives and Records Administration inquiry.

A DHS OIG spokesperson told NPR that consistent with attorney general guidelines, it typically does not confirm the existence of or otherwise comment about ongoing investigations.

Cuffari has claimed the messages were erased after a request by his office, while the Secret Service has denied th0se allegations, saying the deletions were part of a system migration.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.