The further this story develops, the more suspicious the actions of DHS’s own inspector general get. The IG is supposed to be the “internal affairs” wing of a federal agency, charged with investigating possible malfeasance by department personnel — like, say, the mysterious deletion of text messages before and during the attack on the Capitol despite multiple warnings that those records should be preserved.
The IG investigating the Secret Service’s missing text messages is Joseph Cuffari, who serves under Biden but was appointed by Trump. Last week news broke that his office knew back in February that the Secret Service had purged certain agents’ text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021, supposedly due to a mix-up when the agents’ old phones were replaced with new ones. But Cuffari didn’t tell Congress until earlier this month. Nor did he follow through on issuing a public warning last fall that the Service was delaying production of the records despite having considered it at the time. If Cuffari had acted sooner, said one investigator at a nonprofit, “[d]igital forensics experts could have been working to recover these lost texts a long time ago.”
Last night WaPo published another scoop about Cuffari dragging his feet on notifying Congress about missing communications. Apparently the pre-January 6 text messages of Chad Wolf, Trump’s former head of DHS, and Ken Cuccinelli, the deputy chief, have also disappeared into the ether. Wolf was indignant on social media at the insinuation that he would have deliberately destroyed data that might have incriminated Trump or others:
I complied with all data retention laws and returned all my equipment fully loaded to the Department. Full stop. DHS has all my texts, emails, phone logs, schedules, etc. Any issues with missing data needs to be addressed to DHS. To imply otherwise is lazy reporting.
— Chad Wolf (@ChadFWolf) July 29, 2022
The Post’s story didn’t accuse Wolf of deleting records, though. It suggested that those records were on the phones, just like Wolf said, only to have been inexplicably destroyed by the department itself. Which raises the same questions raised in the case of the missing Secret Service texts: Was this negligence or deliberate obstruction of justice by people inside the department to cover the tracks of Trump or department heads? And why wasn’t Cuffari more forthcoming in sharing what he knows about it with Congress?
The Department of Homeland Security notified the agency’s inspector general in late February that Wolf’s and Cuccinelli’s texts were lost in a “reset” of their government phones when they left their jobs in January 2021 in preparation for the new Biden administration, according to an internal record obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with The Washington Post.
The office of the department’s undersecretary of management also told the government watchdog that the text messages for its boss, Undersecretary Randolph “Tex” Alles, the former Secret Service director, were also no longer available due to a previously planned phone reset.
The Office of Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari did not press the department leadership at that time to explain why they did not preserve these records, nor seek ways to recover the lost data, according to the four people briefed on the watchdog’s actions. Cuffari also failed to alert Congress to the potential destruction of government records.
Inspector general is a curious job for such a seemingly incurious man. The Project On Government Oversight, which obtained the internal record about Wolf’s and Cuccinelli’s missing texts, also says it’s unclear whether Cuffari’s boss, Alejandro Mayorkas, was told that the texts were missing until now despite a rule requiring him to do so in cases of “serious or flagrant problems, abuses, or deficiencies relating to the administration of programs and operations.”
Is, or was, Cuffari’s office deliberately slow-walking the investigation knowing that it would be harder to recover the missing data after more time had passed following its deletion? WaPo notes that Wolf and Cuccinelli were both pressured by Trump during the “stop the steal” period to help him overturn the election, with Cuccinelli at one point forced to inform Rudy Giuliani that, no, the Department of Homeland Security couldn’t start seizing voting machines. But any digital trail that may exist relating to that or other communications is now up in smoke, just like the digital trail at the Secret Service.
The fact that information about missing texts and Cuffari’s slow-footedness in reporting them keeps leaking to POGO and WaPo suggests that insiders at DHS are themselves suspicious that this is no innocent mistake.
There’s another lingering mystery. Initially the January 6 committee subpoenaed the records of 24 employees of the Secret Service. According to CNN, the Service has been able to determine that 10 of those 24 sent no text messages around January 6. Metadata found on the phones of 10 others revealed that they *did* send texts around that period, although those texts have yet to be recovered. Who are those 10? Tony Ornato, the Secret Service agent who became Trump’s deputy chief of staff, isn’t among them, reportedly. But what about the agents who were in charge of checking rallygoers on January 6 for weapons? The most damaging piece of testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson was that Trump knew his fans were bringing weapons to the rally and didn’t care. If there’s any corroborating evidence of that, it might lie in text messages sent from or to the agents themselves.
Meanwhile, just as I’m writing this post, more news is breaking:
CNN Exclusive: DHS inspector general first learned of missing Secret Service text messages in May 2021 – more than a year before he alerted Jan 6 Cmte that potentially crucial information may have been erased, @WhitneyWReports @jeremyherb @ZcohenCNN reporting.
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) July 29, 2022
When does Biden fire Cuffari and assign the new IG to investigate him for a cover-up? This is getting ridiculous.