August 13, 2022

The Homeland Security watchdog halted a plan to retrieve Secret Service texts

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The Homeland Security Department’s chief watchdog canceled an investigation team’s attempt to collect agent phones this year in an attempt to retrieve deleted Secret Service texts, according to the decision and four people familiar with the internal records reviewed by The Washington Post.

In early February, after learning that Secret Service text messages were partially destroyed Migrating to new equipment, Inspector General Joseph V. Gaffery’s office staff plans to contact all DHS agencies to ask for data experts to help them retrieve messages from their phones, according to two government whistleblowers who have provided reports to Congress.

But later that month, Gaffari’s office decided not to collect or review any agency phones. Summarized according to the results of three people.

The latest revelation comes as Democratic lawmakers accused Gaffari’s office of failing to seriously investigate the agency’s actions in response to the Jan. 6, 2021, violent attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

Gaffari wrote Letter It told the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees this month that Secret Service text messages from the time of the attack had been “destroyed.” But he did not immediately disclose that his office first discovered the deletion in December and failed to alert lawmakers or examine the phones. He did not alert Congress that other text messages were missing, including two top Trump appointees who ran the Department of Homeland Security in the administration’s final days.

On Friday night, a spokesman for Gaffari issued a statement declining to comment on the new discovery.

“To protect the integrity of our work and to comply with U.S. Attorney General guidelines, DHS OIG does not confirm or comment on the existence of ongoing reviews or criminal investigations, and does not discuss our communications with Congress,” the statement said.

Gaffari, a former adviser to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), has been in his post since July 2019 after being nominated by Trump.

DHS spokeswoman Marsha Espinoza said the agency is cooperating with investigators and is “looking at every avenue to recover the text messages and other materials for the Jan. 6 hearings.”

Trump Homeland Security’s Jan. 6 speeches to Wolf and Cuccinelli are missing

The Federal Protective Service, the DHS agency that guards federal buildings, gave the phones to the inspector general’s investigators after finding that some of the text messages searched by the watchdog had been deleted, saying they lacked evidence to recover the lost texts and other records. On their own, according to three people familiar with the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive investigation.

A senior forensic analyst in the inspector general’s office took steps to collect the Central Security Service phones, the people said. But late on the night of Friday, February 18, one of several representatives reporting to Gaffari’s management team wrote an email instructing investigators not to pick up the phones and not obtain any data from them. A post shared with The Post.

Staff investigators drafted a letter to all DHS agencies in late January and early February to help retrieve text messages or other data that may have been lost. But Gaffari’s management team The three then changed that draft and said that if the agencies were unable to retrieve the phone messages by January 6, they would have to “provide a detailed list of the data that is not available and provide a reason why the information is not available.”

Gaffari learned in late February that text messages for two top officials at DHS under the Trump administration were missing and were lost when their government phones were “reset” when they left the job in January 2021. An internal record obtained by Scheme under Government supervision. But according to four people briefed on the watchdog’s actions, the Gaffari department’s leadership has not been pressed to explain why they did not preserve the records or attempt to retrieve them. Ghaffari also did not alert Congress to the missing records.

These and other discrepancies have prompted key Democrats to investigate the attack and the Department of Homeland Security Surrender to the Secret Service and call on Gaffari to recuse himself from the investigation.

The House Homeland Security Committee and Jan. 6 Chairman of the investigation team Benny G. Thompson (D-Miss.) and Inspector General Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), in a letter to Cuffari on Tuesday, said they had “no confidence” he would be able to hold the hearing.

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), released a statement Friday calling the missing messages “a very serious matter” and said he would ask the Justice Department to intervene.

“Inspector General Gaffari’s failure to take immediate action upon learning of the deletion of these text messages makes it clear that he should no longer be entrusted with this investigation,” Durbin said in a statement. “That’s why I’m sending a letter today to Attorney General Garland to find out what happened to these text messages and hold those responsible accountable.”

Ghaffari was asked to respond to lawmakers by August 9.

Gaffari this month opened a criminal investigation into Secret Service text messages, one of dozens of investigations his office conducts as part of its job of overseeing the nation’s third-largest agency, the Department of Homeland Security. Many, including Democrats in Congress, were skeptical of the timing and scope of the investigation because Gaffari was not pressed to investigate the fact that the records had been deleted months ago. DHS includes agencies such as the Secret Service, the Federal Security Service, and Immigration and Border Protection.

Three people described his handling of the missing text messages, painting a portrait of an office at a loss for how to handle the problem, despite having competent officials ready to attack the problem and federal agencies willing to cooperate.

A former senior administrator of the inspector general’s office who left the agency this year said Gaffari’s office instructed the administrator to call the agency’s top forensic expert earlier this year to “stop” continuing forensic work on the cover-up. Phones of service.

“This was done at the direction of the inspector general’s front office,” said the former senior executive, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not in the office.

Ghaffari’s office continued to issue statements, on a day when lawmakers called on him to step down. Tweeted About the awards they have won for studies. These awards are from the Inspector General Council for Integrity and Performance, an independent executive agency that supports the Inspector General.

In their letter, Thompson and Maloney asked the House to find a replacement for Gaffari in the investigation into the missing Secret Service documents.

The council said it can help find a replacement only if Cuffari decides to recuse himself and asks them to help find a replacement, its executive director, Alan F. Boehm, said in an email.

Ghaffari sent a letter to the House and Senate homeland security committees This month accused SThe Secret Service destroys the text messages during the attack on the Capitol and after he intercepts them for his own investigation.

The Secret Service has denied Maliciously The erasures and deletions of text messages are part of a pre-planned “system migration” of its phones. They said none of the books Gaffari’s office sought were missing.

The Federal Records Act and other laws require federal agencies to preserve government records, and the willful destruction of government records is a crime punishable by fines and prison terms.

In addition to the Secret Service, Trump’s text messages to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli were missing during a key period leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, according to four people briefed on the matter and internal emails.

But Cuccinelli and Wolf both said they got their phone back as Wolf left it. Tweet“Fully loaded,” and told DHS to protect their messages.

On Twitter, Wrote the wolf: “I complied with all data retention laws and returned all my equipment to the department fully loaded. End point. DHS has all my texts, emails, phone records, schedules and more. Any issues related to missing data should be reported to DHS.

Cuccinelli, also TwitterHe said he gave DHS his phone before leaving and suggested the agency “destroy” his phone after he left.

The National Archives and Records Administration has requested more information about the “possible unauthorized deletion” of Secret Service text messages, but that investigation may be delayed by Gaffari’s criminal investigation into the agency. The archives had no immediate comment Friday about the text messages from Wolf and Cuccinelli.