(WASHINGTON) — Career staff at the government’s watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security prepared a notice to Congress earlier this year about their difficulty obtaining Secret Service text messages connected to Jan. 6, but it was never included as part of the watchdog’s regular reporting requirement to lawmakers.
New documents reviewed by ABC News, and first obtained by the independent accountability group Project on Government Oversight, show the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG)’s legal office went so far as approving a draft notice to Congress that was ultimately not included in the agency’s semi-annual report in June.
It’s unclear why the notice was not in the report. But the draft document details what the OIG said were “avoidable” roadblocks imposed on its work by DHS.
According to the notice, the DHS used a cumbersome approval process to release requested records to the OIG, which was “requiring [the office] to waste valuable time making inquiries.” And after delays of more than a month in some cases, documents would arrive with unexplained redactions.
Amid those described delays, according to the notice, the OIG said it was on Feb. 23 when the Secret Service notified the watchdog’s staff of the mobile phone data migration process in early 2021 “which wiped all data” — including the Jan. 6-related texts.
This contradicts another timeline: The watchdog’s office was aware as early as December that Secret Service texts from Jan. 6 had been erased, according to congressional committee members who received a Secret Service briefing on the subject last month.
It wasn’t until more than six months after the OIG allegedly knew about the deletions that it formally notified lawmakers, on July 13, according to Congress.
As ABC News previously reported, Democrats in Congress released new evidence last week alleging that nearly a year before notifying Congress, Inspector General Joseph Cuffari had abandoned his efforts to recover the Secret Service’s text messages from Jan. 6.
Democrats have called on Cuffari to step down, suggesting a cover-up related to the text message probe.
Sen. Gary Peters, Democratic chair of the Homeland Security Committee, on Wednesday requested a “full accounting” from Cuffari about the efforts to recover messages from the Secret Service and other DHS officials.
“These are serious allegations and diverge from the information that you previously provided me and my team,” Peters wrote.
“Therefore, I am requesting that you provide me with a complete accounting of actions planned and taken by your office and clarify the inconsistencies in what has been reported to date,” he wrote.
The DHS Office of Inspector General did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Regarding the government watchdog’s Jan. 6 investigation more generally, their June report had noted “significant delays” with Secret Service records production.
“We continue to discuss this issue with Secret Service,” the brief statement said then.
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