Aug 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Report: DHS inspector general previously accused of misleading investigators

Photo of the Department of Homeland Security seal on a wall

The Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Homeland Security inspector general overseeing a probe into deleted Jan. 6 Secret Service messages was previously accused of misleading investigators, according to a 2013 report released Wednesday.

Why it matters: Joseph Cuffari, a Trump appointee, has been facing calls to step aside amid allegations of a cover-up in his office's investigation into the deleted messages. The report raises new questions about his conduct in one of the most critical oversight roles in the federal government.

Details: The 2013 investigation found that Cuffari, then a special agent overseeing a Department of Justice inspector general field office in Arizona, violated several agency requirements and federal ethics regulations, including using his public office for private gain.

  • He failed to properly notify the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that he provided testimony at the request of a plaintiff in a case against the federal government, per the report. The Inspector General manual dictates that he should have "notified the appropriate OIG officials and obtained approval before testifying."
  • Nonetheless, DOJ OIG investigators "were skeptical of Cuffari's assertion to us" regarding his presence at the hearing. "Cuffari’s purported response was materially different than what he had e-mailed his supervisors about an hour earlier," per the report.
  • They did "not believe" Cuffari's explanation for the lack of disclosure.
  • Cuffari at one point also provided the names of two "lawyer friends of his" to the mother of the plaintiff who sought his testimony, according to the report.

Of note: An internal team recommended a more in-depth review of Cuffari's actions through the Office of Inspector General’s investigations unit, according to the report. But he retired shortly after and went to work for then-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), the Washington Post notes.

What they're saying: House Oversight chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and House Homeland Security chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) stepped up their calls for Cuffari to step aside following the release of the newly disclosed report, citing what they called his "repeated failures."

  • "The 2013 memo we are releasing today raises yet more questions about whether Mr. Cuffari can complete this investigation with impartiality and integrity as Inspector General," they said in a statement.
  • "We know that Inspector General Cuffari sat on the knowledge of the erased text messages for a year, choosing not to notify Congress and even discouraging his own investigators from recovering key information."

The other side: Cuffari's office did not immediately return Axios' request for comment, but his spokesperson told WashPost he's proud of his records in both the Air Force and the DOJ OIG, noting his several awards and that he "retired with a spotless record from DOJ OIG."

  • Cuffari told Politico earlier this week in response to criticism of his office's Secret Service investigation that protocols prevented him from publicly responding "to untruths and false information about our work," but he's "proud of the resilience I have witnessed in the face of this onslaught of meritless criticism."

The big picture: CNN reported over the weekend that Cuffari allegedly learned of the missing Secret Service messages related to the Jan. 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol riot four months after it occurred.

  • The Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the insurrection, which Thompson also chairs, has since subpoenaed the Secret Service and Cuffari has launched a criminal investigation into the matter.
  • Maloney and Thompson demanded Cuffari's office provide documents and interviews, citing emails indicating his staff may have tried to stop efforts to obtain the deleted messages.
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