White House, Congress Upset by Problematic DHS Inspector General

May 31, 2022
6:34 PM

Joseph V. Cuffari, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security (USMEPCOM)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Patience for Joseph V. Cuffari is growing thin in Congress and at the White House, with sources telling Latino Rebels that the embattled Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general has embarrassed the agency, snubbed the White House, and fueled a lack of faith in Congress about his ability to continue in the role.

Internal documents leaked to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) show Cuffari and his deputies directed staff to remove reports of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment by DHS agents and six-figure payouts to survivors.

“More than 10,000 employees at law enforcement components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) say they have experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, according to an unpublished federal watchdog report,” wrote Adam Zagorin and Nick Schwellenbach for POGO. “That’s over one-third of the roughly 28,000 employees who responded to a survey conducted as part of the long-pending review.”

“The draft report also described a pattern of the agencies using cash payments, with payouts as high as $255,000, to settle sexual harassment complaints without investigating or disciplining the perpetrators. But senior officials in the inspector general’s office objected to that finding, suggesting in written comments that it be removed from the report, which has never been published,” Chris Cameron reported for the New York Times.

Cuffari was criticized in 2020 for covering up the December 2018 deaths of two Guatemalan children in Border Patrol custody: Felipe Gomez Alonzo, eight, and Jakelin Caal, seven.

Cuffari —who, as DHS inspector general, is the chief federal watchdog for the Secret Service— was also urged by senior staff members to investigate any role the Secret Service might have played in the violent removal of Black Lives Matter protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2020. Cuffari, a Trump appointee, declined to do so.

“Cuffari is a hack,” said a senior White House official on Tuesday who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “Removing him just hasn’t been a priority for the President … at least not yet.”

President Joe Biden invited the inspectors general from all the agencies to the White House on April 29—Cuffari was a no-show.

“We have brought [Cuffari] to the attention of the President and Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas,” the official said. “Certainly no one is happy with the job he is doing at DHS.”

Cuffari was handpicked by former President Trump and his immigration czar, Steven Miller, to serve as DHS inspector general. Before his Senate confirmation in 2019, Cuffari worked as a policy aide to former Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who in 2010 signed into law Arizona SB1070, known as the “Show Me Your Papers” law targeting undocumented immigrants.

Inspectors general are Senate-confirmed public servants who are supposed to serve as internal watchdogs at their respective agencies. But Cuffari has failed to live up to the job, according to the chairmen of both the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees.

“You try to take the politics out of it and let them do the job,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. “When they don’t, then that’s an issue for us to try to convince him to do his job. Otherwise, he should depart.”

Chairman Thompson has sent several letters to Cuffari outlining a range of complaints.

A letter in March found that the Inspector General’s investigation into the deaths of the seven- and eight-year-olds in Border Patrol custody produced reports that were “inaccurate and misleading” and that Cuffari’s office “failed to examine key questions” surrounding the childrens’ deaths.

Earlier this month, Thompson sent a letter to Cuffari admonishing him for censoring rampant domestic abuse and sexual misconduct by DHS agent from a report. Hush money payouts for abuse survivors were also removed from the same report, according to the whistleblower report published by POGO.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have also sent Cuffari a letter demanding to know why the domestic abuse by agents was omitted from his report.

“The changes fundamentally altered the report by narrowing its scope and removing alarming evidence that DHS had failed to adequately address instances of domestic violence by its employees,” said the letter signed by Durbin and Grassley.

Cuffari responded to the letter, according to aides familiar with the exchange, arguing that the abuses by agents were already common knowledge within the agency so they did not need to be included in the report.

“We’re not satisfied with the response, at all,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), chair of the Homeland Security Committee. “So we’re kind of appraising what will be the appropriate next step.”

In the House, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) told Latino Rebels in April that Cuffari should resign.

“To me, this is a pattern,” Escobar said. “He really does need to resign, and we need people in place who will do right by their office and do right by the American people.”

“The fact that this was known and not reported calls into question his objectivity,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). “No question about it: I think it jeopardizes his position.”

Only the president can fire an agency’s inspector general.


Pablo Manríquez is the Washington correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports