Swords are drawn for the Homeland Security Department’s IG

The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General, Joseph Cuffari, is hanging onto his job by a thread. He acknowledge in a hearing that he has deleted me...

The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General, Joseph Cuffari, is hanging onto his job by a thread. He acknowledge in a hearing that he has deleted messages from his government cell phone, which at least two members of Congress say is a violation of federal records laws. They want him to resign. For the latest,   Federal Drive with Tom Temin  spoke with Mitchell Miller, WTOP’s Capitol Hill correspondent.

Interview Transcript: 

Mitchell Miller Well, the latest is that Democrats had held off for quite a while on actually calling for his resignation. But after this hearing last week, which is before a House Oversight subcommittee, Maryland Congressman Glenn Ivey (D-Md.) and the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), both called for him to step down. And really the main thing was that Maryland Congressman Glenn Ivey told me later that this was really the last straw in connection with Cuffari, because during the questioning that I’ve had with him, he basically acknowledged that he had decided on his own to delete tacks and take away electronic records, which you would think this position you would be very sensitive to that, because he’s required to keep those in connection with, for example, some of the internal investigations that you just alluded to. So after this exchange, in which Cuffari essentially admitted, yes, I did delete these and I thought I had the purview to do this because of my position, Ivey said that was just enough in his view, along with the Homeland Security chair, Bennie Thompson. And they issued a very strongly worded message saying that he should step down. And this was really the last thing which we can talk about more, on top of several other things that have happened over the last few years.

Tom Temin Right. And no reaction from him at that point that we know of yet.

Mitchell Miller Right. We still don’t know if he is going to try to hang on. But I think you can anticipate he is going to try to fight this. He has been under scrutiny, as you noted, for a few years now since he was appointed under the Trump administration. And he basically says that he’s been victimized because of people that have a lot of axes to grind, that Democrats are after him as well. And he’s gotten Republican support in connection with his job. So I think that he’s going to try to hang on as long as he can.

Tom Temin And what are some of the other allegations that have trailed him for these several years?

Mitchell Miller Well, the first one and the really the biggest one, was he really shocked many members of Congress when he told them a few years ago that he had learned that the Secret Service, after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, that the Secret Service had eliminated its texts on Jan. 5 and the sixth, and nobody knew about this. And then after they followed up on it, it turned out that his office actually knew about this for many months. In fact, Ivey said he thinks that he may have known it for more than a year. So this was really a mind blowing moment for a lot of members of Congress trying to figure out what happened on those days. Now, the Secret Service, when pressed, said that this was part of a regular upgrade of its phones. But many people are skeptical, obviously, given the day that it was right before Jan. 6 and then on Jan. 6, this could have clearly provided a lot of information about things that former President Trump was doing at the time. So that one really set them off. And then internally, within the Homeland Security Department’s IG office itself, there have been allegations in connection with sexual abuse and a variety of people saying that they were not being treated well and mistreated, frankly, under the law in the department. And many lawmakers do not think that he actually investigated them as aggressively as he should have. And also his own records and his own texts were also eliminated in connection with that investigation. So clearly, he’s been feeling the heat here from lawmakers for quite some time.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller, Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP. And what about the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, the CIGI group. Have they weighed in on Cufarri? I think they have.

Mitchell Miller They have. And they’ve noted that he’s been investigated for these past couple of years, and they really want to see something done in connection with making sure that this type of thing doesn’t happen. And kind of related to that, some Democrats have actually proposed legislation that would effectively tighten the oversight of the inspector general, which of course, the inspector general is the person who’s supposed to be this backstop for these investigations and for things that are happening within the department. So I don’t know that it’s necessarily going to move forward because Republicans, again, have defended him to this point and said that basically they are pointing the finger back at former President Trump. But it does show how much scrutiny he has under.

Tom Temin All right. And he’s hanging tough for the moment then. Fair to say.

Mitchell Miller Right, Exactly. I don’t know where it goes from here. That hearing obviously really heightened this to a new level, especially after everything that had happened over the last couple of years. So he is likely probably going to continue to fight this, I would think, in the coming months.

Tom Temin And on the Jan. 6 point, that’s something that still another congressman, Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) of Maryland, also questioned.

Mitchell Miller Right. This was really interesting. So you had the back and forth between Cufarri and Maryland Congressman Glenn Ivey on the whole incident about whether or not he had been deleting his own texts. And then you had Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, who, of course, was on the House panel that investigated Jan. 6. He asked a lot of tough questions to Cufarri at this oversight hearing about why did Cufarri basically fail to notify Congress, which, by the way, is required by law that he thought that the DHS effectively was not going along with his request to get more information from the Secret Service. Now, Cuffari said he was working with the Department of Homeland Security and trying to get that information. Why he didn’t elect to tell members of Congress still kind of unclear. He also said that the DHS itself, had not preserved records that should have been protected. So at this point, he thought that he was doing all he could, or at least this is the way he explained it to the members of Congress, that he was doing everything he could to try to get this information and had just failed to give the information to lawmakers. But Jamie Raskin pointed out that really is the role of the inspector general to protect and to go after the information and make sure that the information gets out. So that was an interesting moment in connection with this hearing last week.

Tom Temin Pretty soon, people are going to start routinely searching bathrooms and auditoriums for records, for pictures we saw last weekend. And what about the administration? I mean, they could conceivably dismiss him, right?

Mitchell Miller They could, yes. It’s really up to the president whether or not to do this. And I asked Glenn Ivey about this in an interview that we had later, and he said, yeah, it’s ultimately up to the White House whether they can actually get rid of them. I think they’re allowing congressional Democrats to take the lead on this to see whether or not there is enough of a groundswell to actually get him forced out. So I think we’ll be watching this space very closely, because the administration certainly could get rid of him at any point.


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