Draft shows watchdog took months to flag missing Secret Service texts

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog took months to alert Congress to missing Secret Service text messages surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, even after attorneys approved a draft notification, leaving the information out of a key report and ultimately releasing only a softer version, newly released documents show.

The draft alertobtained by the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group, is the latest evidence to raise questions about the Office of Inspector General’s handling of missing texts, and is sure to anger Democrats in the Chamber, some of whom have accused the inspector general of a cover-up as they investigate the attack.

The approved notification is scathing. Congress needed to be alerted that the Secret Service had deleted texts related to the investigation of the attack, delayed the response of investigators and unnecessarily redacted documents.

But even though lawyers for the inspector general’s office approved the draft notification on April 1, the agency, which oversees the Secret Service, waited until July 13 to issue the alert.

Joseph V. Cuffari, the agency’s inspector general, also did not include the alert in a June semi-annual report, even though that report is to indicate when an agency “has resisted or objected to activities surveillance” or “has restricted or significantly delayed access to information”. according to a project report on government monitoring on the alert project.

The group said the language was never included in the agency’s semi-annual review after being sent to an office headed by the inspector general’s chief of staff, Kristen Fredricks.

The inspector general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The notification also contains new details about how the Secret Service resisted scrutiny for its actions around the January 6 attack.

The Secret Service had accused a Phone System update of losing key data from January 5-6, 2021. But the “Secret Service did not explain why they did not keep the texts before the migration”, indicates the draft notification.

The Secret Service has since said the project was underway before it received notice from the Inspector General to retain its data, and that it had not “maliciously” deleted the text messages.

On Wednesday, Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee asked the head of the Secret Service and the Secretary of Homeland Security for details about the systems migration.

It is not known what the missing text messages say or how many are missing. In general, the agency does not want its agents to use the SMS function on their phones. But the agency’s resistance to cooperating with the inspector general’s investigation has raised questions about what it might hold back.

Top Democrats have been pushing for weeks for answers from the inspector general’s office, including demands that Ms. Fredricks and another staffer testify before Congress about it.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and chair of the Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and chair of the Homeland Security Committee, called on Mr. Cuffari to withdraw from the investigation into missing texts. .

Mr. Cuffari eventually informed Congress that the January 5 and 6 messages had been deleted, suggesting that the deletion had occurred as part of a device replacement program. He said those whose messages were missing included officers who were part of former President Donald J. Trump’s security detail.

The inspector general also ordered the Secret Service to stop its internal search for purged texts sent by agents around January 6 so that they “did not interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The agency released the officers’ personal cellphone numbers as part of the investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter. This sparked outrage from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which said the personal numbers should not have been released without the officers’ consent.

But Ms. Maloney and Mr. Thompson, who also head the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, said they had lost faith in Mr. Cuffariwhose office, they say, “may have taken steps to conceal the extent of the missing documents, raising further concerns about your ability to independently and effectively carry out your duties as Inspector General”.

Legislators quoted report from CNN that the Inspector General learned in May 2021 that the Secret Service lacked critical text messages.

The lawmakers also said the committees learned that Mr. Cuffari’s office had been informed in February that text messages from Chad Wolf and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the two top Department of Homeland Security politicians on January 6 2021, could not be recovered. They added that the Inspector General was also aware that Mr. Cuccinelli was using his personal phone and that he had not collected messages from that device either.