August 17, 2022

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Top lawmakers renew call for DHS IG to step aside investigation of missing texts, CNN reports

Top lawmakers renew call for DHS IG to step aside investigation of missing texts, CNN reports

House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney and Homeland Security Chairman Benny Thompson reiterated their call for Inspector General Joseph Kovary to step down in a speech on Monday.

“We write with serious new concerns about your lack of transparency and independence, which appears to threaten the integrity of a critical investigation conducted by your office,” they said in the letter.

Maloney and Thompson are also requesting written interviews with key IG DHS employees. CNN first reported that DHS investigators dropped their efforts to recover lost text messages from the Secret Service in July 2021, a year before Kovari raised concerns about the Secret Service and DHS transparency to congressional oversight committees.

“The commissions obtained new evidence that your office may have secretly abandoned Secret Service text-message collection efforts more than a year ago,” the letter said. “These documents also indicate that your office may have taken steps to cover up the volume of missing records, raising further concerns about your ability to independently and effectively perform your duties as an Inspector General (IG).”

The committees are requesting a list of communications and documents by Monday, ranging from correspondence regarding any decisions not to collect or retrieve text messages to communications related to notifying Congress.

CNN has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General for comment.

The letter shows that DHS Deputy Inspector General Thomas Kate wrote an email to DHS liaison, Jim Krampbacher, on July 27, 2021, telling DHS investigators that they were no longer looking for text messages. Kate is one of the employees the committee wants to meet now.

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Jim, please use this email as a reference for our conversation as you said we no longer request USSS phone records and text messages. [United States Secret Service] Regarding the events of January 6th,” the email stated.

The letter also confirms that CNN reopened the investigation into the text messages in December 2021.

Lawmakers said in a letter Monday that Kate also omitted “key language” from the February memo to the Department of Homeland Security, stressing the importance of the text messages to the inspector general’s investigation. The original memo stated that most DHS components did not provide the requested information and that the content of the text messages was a “significant source of information for the review of the DHS’s Office of Homeland Security,” but the final version stated otherwise, saying they received responses, according to the letter.

“These documents raise disturbing new concerns that not only has your office failed to notify Congress for more than a year that crucial evidence in this investigation is missing, but your senior staff deliberately chose not to pursue that evidence and then appear to have taken steps to cover up even these failures,” the letter states.

It goes on to cite missing text messages of top Homeland Security officials under former President Donald Trump — Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary of State Ken Cuccinelli. Information obtained by the committee revealed that the Office of the Inspector General was aware in February that these letters could not be accessed but did not notify Congress. CNN has reached out to Cuccinelli for comment.

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Monday’s message marks another development in the ongoing saga over the missing messages on January 6th. Memos obtained by CNN indicate that the Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly reminded the workforce to comply with the inspector general and related committees.

After the Office of the Inspector General raised concerns to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mallorcas about compliance with the requests, the secretary issued a September 2021 memo to the workforce saying that employees should cooperate in interviews and provide information.

“The Department is committed to supporting the mission of the Office of the Inspector General. DHS personnel are expected to cooperate with OIG audits, inspections, investigations, and other inquiries. Any effort to conceal information or obstruct the Office of the Inspector General in carrying out its critical work is against the direction of the Department and could lead to consequences dire.”

Then, in October 2021, Department of Homeland Security General Counsel Jonathan Mayer issued a special memo dated January 6, 2021, saying that the office was cooperating with the House Select Committee to investigate the Capitol Hill mutiny.

That memorandum states, “I am therefore directing the Department and its components to respond promptly and comprehensively to any requests from the Select Committee it receives.” “Such cooperation and transparency are vital to the department’s commitment to protecting our nation and its founding democratic principles.”