Thompson, Maloney call for Secret Service watchdog to be removed from probe of erased texts

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WASHINGTON – Two leaders of key House committees wrote Tuesday to urge an inspector general to step aside in the investigation of Secret Service texts that were erased during the investigation of the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021.

The erasure, which Secret Service officials have said was unintentional, is now part of a criminal investigation. But Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, failed to notify the committees about the lapse for months.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., head of the committee investigating the attack, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., head of the Oversight and Reform Committee, said the inspector general failed to promptly notify Congress as required by law after learning about the missing texts in December.

“The omission left Congress in the dark about key developments in this investigation and may have cost investigators precious time to capture relevant evidence,” the lawmakers said.

About the deleted Secret Service texts: Criminal probe of Secret Service texts a 'big deal' as agency draws Jan. 6 committee scrutiny

Cuffari previously refused to investigate the Secret Service for unnecessary use of force and for its protocols on protecting officials during the coronavirus pandemic, the lawmakers said.

"This is not the first time Inspector General Cuffari has shown an unwillingness to investigate the Secret Service," the lawmakers said. "There is precedent for Inspectors General to step aside from an ongoing investigation in instances where there are concerns about their independence."

The letter was sent to Cuffari and Allison Lerner, chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. The lawmakers asked Lerner to appoint a replacement for Cuffari.

Cuffari didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

A secret service agent is stationed outside the funeral of Ivana Trump on Wednesday.
A secret service agent is stationed outside the funeral of Ivana Trump on Wednesday.

The committees sought texts from Secret Service agents on Jan. 6 to learn more about what happened that day and how the administration responded. The inspector general has launched a criminal investigation.

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Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified about a dispute she heard about between former President Donald Trump and his Secret Service detail. Texts could have potentially helped corroborate her testimony.

Members of former Vice President Mike Pence's Secret Service detail said they feared for their lives as a violent mob ransacked the Capitol.

Four committees requested the texts from the Department of Homeland Security on Jan. 16, 2021. But the Secret Service erased the texts during a phone-replacement project on Jan. 27, 2021. The inspector general requested electronic communications from the Secret Service on Feb. 26, 2021.

More: Ketchup, regrets, blood and anger: A guide to the Jan. 6 hearings' witnesses and testimony

Secret Service officials have said they are cooperating with the investigations, but that the text erasures were inadvertent.

The inspector general is supposed to notify Congress “immediately” about abuses that are “particularly serious or flagrant,” according to the lawmakers. But Cuffari didn’t notify lawmakers after learning about the missing texts in December or in a semiannual report to Congress in March.

“We are writing to express our grave concerns with Inspector General Cuffari’s failure to promptly notify Congress of crucial information while conducting an investigation of the Secret Service’s preparation for and response to the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol,” Thompson and Maloney wrote.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Thompson, Maloney: Remove Secret Service watchdog from text probe