Top Democrat demands answers on probe into embattled DHS inspector general

House government operations subcommittee chair Gerry Connolly wants answers on whether DHS inspector general Joseph Cuffari is under investigation for ethics violations

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Wednesday 17 August 2022 17:58 BST
Dems Allege Cover-Up On Secret Service Texts, Demand Records

A top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee is demanding answers about an investigation into the Department of Homeland Security watchdog who has been accused of aiding efforts to cover up text messages sent and received by Donald Trump’s protective detail on the day a mob of his supporters stormed the US Capitol.

In a letter to Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency chair Kevin Winters, Representative Gerry Connolly said he has “serious concerns” about the “continued silence” coming from the committee regarding DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari in the wake of multiple reports indicating that Mr Cuffari, an appointee of Mr Trump, failed to notify Congress that text messages from Mr Trump’s protective detail had been deleted despite requests that they be preserved.

Mr Connolly also noted other public reporting indicating that Mr Cuffari violated ethics rules when he worked for the Department of Justice Inspector General’s office, as well as a recent Washington Post report showing that Mr Cuffari has failed to cooperate with an ongoing probe by the Council, which is responsible for policing the conduct of independent inspectors general across the executive branch.

“Given the very public reporting of these serious allegations, the IC must take steps to preserve its integrity and independence by publicly confirming whether it is investigating Mr. Cuffari and the swirl of serious allegations surrounding him,” he wrote.

The Virginia Democrat, who chairs the oversight committee’s powerful government operations subcommittee, asked Mr Winters, who is also Amtrak’s inspector general, to “confirm whether the [integrity committee] is investigating” Mr Cuffari, and if so to detail when the probe began, the allegations under investigation, and whether evidence has been withheld as well as an “an assessment of whether Mr Cuffari is cooperating in the probe, and if not, a detailed description of Mr Cuffari’s lack of cooperation”.

Additionally, Mr Connolly requested that Mr Winters provide an updated policy detailing when the integrity committee will make public “any ongoing investigations into allegations of wrongdoing made against an [inspector general] or any other member of the [inspectors general] community”.

Mr Cuffari’s apparent lack of concern regarding the Secret Service’s deletion of text messages from Mr Trump’s detail comes as the House January 6 select committee is continuing to look into the actions of Mr Trump’s and former vice president Mike Pence’s protective details before and during the attack on the Capitol.

The deletion of text messages, which the agency claims was done during a pre-planned device upgrade program, has raised suspicions among Democratic members of Congress who believe agents on Mr Trump’s detail have acted to shield him from any consequences resulting from his role in sparking the riot, which led to the deaths of at least three US Capitol Police officers and several civilians.

Select committee members believe Mr Trump intentionally acted to politicise the agency to the point where his protective detail agents considered themselves more a praetorian guard loyal to him than to the US Constitution which all federal employees swear an oath to defend.

Despite the multiple controversies surrounding Mr Cuffari, President Joe Biden has not yet indicated that he will take any action against him or the other inspectors general appointed by Mr Trump, and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said Mr Biden has no plans to do so.

But earlier this month, a source familiar with internal White House deliberations said administration officials are “looking into the facts and the situation surrounding [Mr] Cufarri, following the recent revelations with regard to the text messages and the reporting around his past behaviour”.

Another source who has frequent contact with the White House told The Independent Mr Biden is aware of the reports about Mr Cuffari, and said the president would not hesitate to remove him or any other official who fails to maintain the highest ethical standards.

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