Top Democrats Accuse Homeland Security Watchdog of Blocking Testimony in Jan. 6 Inquiry

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog, who is under criticism for his handling of an investigation into missing Secret Service text messages around the time of the Capitol attack, is refusing to cooperate with congressional demands, even blocking his employees from testifying before Congress, two top Democrats said on Tuesday.

Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the Oversight Committee, and Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to Joseph V. Cuffari, the Homeland Security inspector general, demanding that his office comply with their requests for documents and transcribed interviews.

“You have refused to produce responsive documents and blocked employees in your office from appearing for transcribed interviews,” the letter said. “Your obstruction of the committees’ investigations is unacceptable, and your justifications for this noncompliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Congress’s authority and your duties as an inspector general.”

The clash is the latest development surrounding missing text messages from around Jan. 6, 2021, that were sent and received by Secret Service agents and later erased. It is unclear what the deleted messages said or how many are missing, but congressional panels are scrutinizing what agents were saying and doing as President Donald J. Trump insisted on joining a crowd of his supporters at the Capitol after mob violence began that day.

Mr. Cuffari, who was appointed by Mr. Trump, claims that the Secret Service hampered his investigation into the matter. Congressional committees accuse him of failing to adequately carry out an inquiry.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

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Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Making a case against Trump. The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack is laying out a comprehensive narrative of President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Here are the main themes that have emerged so far from eight public hearings:

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

An unsettling narrative. During the first hearing, the committee described in vivid detail what it characterized as an attempted coup orchestrated by the former president that culminated in the assault on the Capitol. At the heart of the gripping story were three main players: Mr. Trump, the Proud Boys and a Capitol Police officer.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Creating election lies. In its second hearing, the panel showed how Mr. Trump ignored aides and advisers as he declared victory prematurely and relentlessly pressed claims of fraud he was told were wrong. “He’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff,” William P. Barr, the former attorney general, said of Mr. Trump during a videotaped interview.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Pressuring Pence. Mr. Trump continued pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to go along with a plan to overturn his loss even after he was told it was illegal, according to testimony laid out by the panel during the third hearing. The committee showed how Mr. Trump’s actions led his supporters to storm the Capitol, sending Mr. Pence fleeing for his life.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Fake elector plan. The committee used its fourth hearing to detail how Mr. Trump was personally involved in a scheme to put forward fake electors. The panel also presented fresh details on how the former president leaned on state officials to invalidate his defeat, opening them up to violent threats when they refused.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Strong arming the Justice Dept. During the fifth hearing, the panel explored Mr. Trump’s wide-ranging and relentless scheme to misuse the Justice Department to keep himself in power. The panel also presented evidence that at least half a dozen Republican members of Congress sought pre-emptive pardons.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

The surprise hearing. Cassidy Hutchinson, ​​a former White House aide, delivered explosive testimony during the panel’s sixth session, saying that the president knew the crowd on Jan. 6 was armed, but wanted to loosen security. She also painted Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, as disengaged and unwilling to act as rioters approached the Capitol.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

Planning a march. Mr. Trump planned to lead a march to the Capitol on Jan. 6 but wanted it to look spontaneous, the committee revealed during its seventh hearing. Representative Liz Cheney also said that Mr. Trump had reached out to a witness in the panel’s investigation, and that the committee had informed the Justice Department of the approach.

Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings

A “complete dereliction” of duty. In the final public hearing of the summer, the panel accused the former president of dereliction of duty for failing to act to stop the Capitol assault. The committee documented how, over 187 minutes, Mr. Trump had ignored pleas to call off the mob and then refused to say the election was over even a day after the attack.

Adding to Congress’s concern: deleted text messages related to the Capitol attack from top Homeland Security and Defense Department officials in the Trump administration. Defense officials have said that some phones of Trump administration officials were “wiped” when they left their government jobs.

Mr. Cuffari’s office similarly conducted a so-called iPhone refresh in June, when employees were instructed to wipe their devices and decide which text messages should be saved. The inspector general’s office did not immediately respond to questions about whether Mr. Cuffari preserved any relevant text messages during the process.

Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan and the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent letters last week to Mr. Cuffari, the Homeland Security secretary and the departing Secret Service director, requesting more information about the deleted communications and the process for preserving federal records.

Mr. Cuffari told Congress last month that Secret Service text messages from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, had been erased, suggesting that it occurred as part of a device replacement program. He has said those whose messages were missing included agents who were part of Mr. Trump’s security detail.

The inspector general also directed the Secret Service to halt its internal search for purged texts so that it would not “interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.” The agency has turned over the personal cellphone numbers of agents as part of that inquiry, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But Ms. Maloney and Mr. Thompson said that Mr. Cuffari’s office had delayed telling Congress about the missing messages for months and severely hampered an internal investigation into the matter. His office “may have taken steps to cover up the extent of missing records,” they said.

The lawmakers have called on Mr. Cuffari to recuse himself from the investigation, a demand he has refused. They have also called for two officials in his office to testify.

Ms. Maloney and Mr. Thompson said Mr. Cuffari sent them a letter on Aug. 8 “refusing to acknowledge any failures in the adequacy and timeliness” of his notification to Congress.

“You gave no indication that you would step aside from the investigation, raising the prospect that the inquiry could be further compromised,” the lawmakers wrote. “You also refused to provide any documents responsive to our request and/or allow your staff to be interviewed, stating, ‘We do not authorize our staff to sit for transcribed interviews with your committee about these ongoing matters.’”

They warned Mr. Cuffari that they would “consider alternate measures to ensure” his compliance. While Ms. Maloney and Mr. Thompson were not specific about these potential steps, they could subpoena documents and testimony.

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