WASHINGTON — Congressional patience with Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari has grown thin.
“Mr. Cuffari has lost his credibility,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a floor speech Tuesday, after the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the Capitol uncovered evidence linking Cuffari to missing text messages by Secret Service agents on the day of the insurrection.
Guardian US: New revelations appear to show the chief watchdog for the Secret Service and DHS took deliberate steps to stop the retrieval of texts, and then sought to hide the fact that it had decided not to pursue that evidence.
— Hugo Lowell (@hugolowell) August 2, 2022
Asked by Latino Rebels if President Joe Biden should fire Cuffari, Sen. Durbin suggested a different approach.
“There’s another way to do it,” said Durbin. “The attorney general can step in and appoint a U.S. attorney to take it over. And that’s what we hope will happen.”
Just asked @SenatorDurbin if @POTUS should fire Cuffari. "There's another way to do it," said Durbin. "The attorney general can step in and appoint a U.S. attorney to take it over. And that's what we hope will happen." https://t.co/vflGFGZIHP
— Pablo Manríquez (@PabloReports) August 2, 2022
“Listen, we’ve got a fight going on with him over sexual harassment in the agency and he won’t even respond to that… so I’ve lost my faith in him,” Durbin said.
Latino Rebels asked Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) last week if President Biden should fire Cuffari. “Yes,” Escobar said. “That office needs new leadership that is truly committed to the high standards that come with that appointment.”
In April, internal documents leaked to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) showed 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Department of Homeland Security (DHS) say they have experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, according to an unpublished federal watchdog report,” wrote Adam Zagorin and Nick Schwellenbach for POGO.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.
The embattled DHS inspector general 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.
President Joe Biden invited the inspectors general from all the agencies to the White House on April 29, but Cuffari was a no-show.
Sen. Durbin indicated to Latino Rebels that Cuffari had similarly ignored letters from Congress demanding more information about the misconduct by DHS agents that Cuffari is alleged to have helped cover up.
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 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. 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.”
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 children’s deaths.
In May, 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.
The Justice Department could not be immediately reached for comment regarding next steps for the investigation into the missing Secret Service text messages and whether Cuffari will remain as Homeland Security watchdog.
Pablo Manríquez is the Capitol Hill correspondent for Latino Rebels. Twitter: @PabloReports