Subpoena For Trump-Appointed Inspector General Over Deleted Emails Under Consideration

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A new letter from Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who lead the House Oversight and Homeland Security Committees, respectively, appears to indicate the legislative leaders are prepared to issue a subpoena — or subpoenas — for information and testimony previously sought from the office of Joseph Cuffari.

Cuffari is the Trump-appointed inspector general overseeing the Department of Homeland Security. After he waited months to provide any kind of substantive alert to Congress that Secret Service texts from around the time of the Capitol riot were lost (supposedly in a tech update), Cuffari now faces criticism and suspicion over his handling of any investigation into issues related to the texts. Maloney and Thompson asked Cuffari earlier this month for “documents and communications on the decision not to pursue missing Secret Service text messages or text messages from former DHS leaders, as well as your failure to provide timely and sufficient notification to Congress,” a new letter from the duo summarizes. The committee leaders also asked for the availability for testimony of two high-ranking figures on Cuffari’s team who could speak to the issues. Cuffari evidently refused the requests.

Cuffari also declined to acknowledge there were any issues with the manner in which he eventually alerted members of Congress to problems obtaining texts from department personnel. In a late 2021 report to Congress to which Cuffari pointed in response to stated concerns from Thompson and Maloney, no mentions of Secret Service texts appear, and the report provides the impression, as the committee leaders summarized it, that lingering “access issues” were “resolved.”

A key piece of U.S. law says that every “Inspector General shall report immediately to the head of the establishment involved whenever the Inspector General becomes aware of particularly serious or flagrant problems, abuses, or deficiencies relating to the administration of programs and operations of such establishment. The head of the establishment shall transmit any such report to the appropriate committees or subcommittees of Congress within seven calendar days, together with a report by the head of the establishment containing any comments such head deems appropriate.” The delay in providing detailed info regarding what was transpiring within the Department of Homeland Security regarding the missing text messages suggests Cuffari potentially violated these rules, although clarity regarding the full situation has yet to emerge.

Furthering the idea that there was an intentional cover-up of the fallout, comments explaining some of the situation with the Secret Service texts was, for some reason, removed from a legally required mid-2022 report from Cuffari’s office to Congress. The report eventually submitted to Congress didn’t reference Secret Service text messages at all. It was weeks later when Cuffari began providing certain pieces of information about the situation — more than a year after first learning (way back in May 2021) texts were apparently lost. Cuffari apparently took concerns about the issue to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on more than one occasion, but it’s not immediately clear when exactly those interactions took place.

Thompson and Maloney’s letter also identifies specific gaps in the information Cuffari eventually provided. When briefing the homeland security panel, he didn’t mention his team once told the department that key text messages under dispute were no longer required. (The inspector general eventually issued renewed requests for materials.) Cuffari also didn’t mention that missing texts from the top two political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security on January 6 of last year were also missing.

Besides defending the actions he and his team took, Cuffari also claimed a criminal investigation he’s leading restricts his ability to share information with Congress, but Thompson and Maloney noted there’s no such restriction on Congress conducting oversight work that broadly mirrors a criminal probe. “In response to the Committees’ requests, you have refused to produce responsive documents and blocked employees in your office from appearing for transcribed interviews,” the Congresspersons’ new letter to Cuffari states. “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. If you continue to refuse to comply with our requests, we will have no choice but to consider alternate measures to ensure your compliance.”