Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked this week for an investigation by Attorney General Merrick Garland into missing text messages from key figures in the national security apparatus inside the Trump administration around the time of the attack on the Capitol.
Text messages associated with then-officials including acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli are evidently among those missing. Durbin was also critical of the apparently lax initial response from Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general overseeing the Department of Homeland Security, to the missing texts. “The destruction of evidence that could be relevant to the investigation of the deadly attack on our Capitol is an extremely serious matter,” as the Illinois Senator commented. “Inspector General Cuffari’s failure to take immediate action upon learning that these text messages had been deleted makes clear that he should no longer be entrusted with this investigation. That’s why I’m sending a letter today to Attorney General Garland asking him to step in and get to the bottom of what happened to these text messages and hold accountable those who are responsible.”
Also at issue are apparently missing texts from figures inside the Secret Service. The House committee investigating the Capitol violence recently subpoenaed texts from that agency amid concerns about the handling of comms from around the time period under scrutiny, but the Secret Service claimed to have nothing additional to provide the panel. In key earlier communications with legislators in the House and Senate about the issue, Cuffari didn’t mention his team became aware last December of the loss of Secret Service texts, and he also didn’t mention the missing texts from Wolf and Cuccinelli. The two of them both responded on Twitter to concerns about lost messages and basically blamed department personnel for any issues, saying they provided their phones before leaving their positions and the responsibility for what was done with them rested with figures then at the department.
For some reason, there were repeated pushes from figures close to Cuffari, a former adviser to the current GOP governor of Arizona and an appointee in his current position of then-President Donald Trump, against taking more aggressive steps to try and recover lost texts. An individual identified by the Post as a senior forensics analyst in the department inspector general’s office was moving to take possession of phones offered by Federal Protective Service personnel for examination — however, “late on the night of Friday, Feb. 18, one of several deputies who report to Cuffari’s management team wrote an email to investigators instructing them not to take the phones and not to seek any data from them,” the Post explained.
In another instance, Cuffari’s apparent personal team altered a draft message to agencies inside the Department of Homeland Security, changing an initial offer from inspector general’s office investigators to assist agencies in seeking to salvage any potential lost phone data to a more simple statement directing agencies to provide information about certain possibly unavailable phone messages relevant to investigators in the January 6 context. Cuffari is now investigating the missing texts, but amid concerns including the long delay he took before launching more aggressive action, there’s not a lot of apparent confidence in his handling of the matter.