DHS lawyers evaluate whether to allow Secret Service to cooperate with Jan. 6 committee

Lawyers for the Department of Homeland Security are weighing whether or not US Secret Service officials can continue to cooperate with the House select committee investigating the case. January 6, 2021, Assault on the US Capitol after the department’s top watchdog directed the agency to stop investigating what happened to apparently deleted text messages as of that day, three US officials told CBS News.

In a July 20 letter addressed to US Secret Service Director James Murray and reviewed by CBS News, DHS Deputy Inspector General Gladys Ayala instructed the agency “not to engage in any other investigative activities.” “, adding that the agency’s efforts to interview potential witnesses or other actions “would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.”

The letter prompted a review of US Secret Service cooperation by the DHS Office of the General Counsel, amid concerns that any voluntary appearance by Secret Service officials before supervisory officials on Capitol Hill could interfere with a possible criminal investigation of Joseph Cuffari. , the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security.

“The DHS Office of the General Counsel is looking at best legal tender here,” a US official told CBS News. “The question is, what does the department do first? If there is public testimony before a criminal case, that could have implications for the case.”

Although US government watchdogs routinely investigate criminal activities, they do not have the authority to initiate criminal proceedings. Therefore, if the DHS Inspector General discovers evidence of criminal activity during his office’s ongoing investigation into the missing US Secret Service text messages, the OIG should refer the matter to the US Attorney General, who, in ultimately determines whether or not to file charges.

John Tien, deputy secretary of the DHS, told reporters on Monday that the US Secret Service remains “responsive” amid parallel oversight investigations.

“I think the Secret Service did the things we asked. And they certainly were very proactive in responding to all the different events,” Tien said backstage at an awards ceremony for DHS staff.

No US Secret Service personnel have been placed on administrative leave as a result of the ongoing investigation, two Secret Service officials confirmed to CBS News.

The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack could still compel Secret Service agents to appear before the panel issuing a subpoena. Representative Liz Cheneythe vice chairman of the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitolsaid Sunday that the panel is considering additional subpoenas and remains “fully prepared to contemplate a subpoena” for Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Earlier this month, the January 6 committee subpoenaed text messages from two dozen Secret Service agents. House panel staff said they received only one text resulting from the July 15 subpoena to the agency requesting their January 5 and 6, 2021 text messages. The Secret Service said the messages have been deleted due to an agency-wide migration, despite requests for preservation from investigators and Congress.

The select committee says the Secret Service may have violated the Federal Records Act by failing to properly preserve communications sent and received during the attack on the US Capitol.

Scrutiny of US Secret Service officials — including former White House deputy chief of staff for operations Tony Ornato and Robert Engel, the Secret Service special agent in charge on Jan. of Trump’s White House Cassidy Hutchinson testified at a House select committee hearing last month. Hutchinson told lawmakers that Ornato had revealed former President Donald Trump attacked in a member of his protection team and took the wheel of his presidential SUV during a meeting at the White House on Jan.

Sources close to Ornate and Engel backed off in part on Hutchinson’s testimony, telling CBS News that both officials deny that Trump ever reached the steering wheel or an agent.

Earlier this month, the National Archives asked the US Secret Service for more information about “the potential unauthorized deletion” of the agency’s text messages. The top US government archivist asked the law enforcement agency to report to the Archives within 30 days, outlining the circumstances surrounding the apparently expunged government records.

Two top Congressional leaders asked DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to “step aside” amidst the Secret Service communications investigation on Jan. after knowing about them.

Representative Bennie Thompson, head of the committee investigating the attack and the House Homeland Security Committee, as well as Representative Carolyn Maloney, head of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, said the inspector general did not immediately notify Congress as required by law. after learning of the deleted texts in December.

“The omission left Congress in the dark about key developments in this investigation and may have cost investigators valuable time to capture relevant evidence,” lawmakers said in a letter sent to Cuffari and Allison Lerner, chairman of the Board of Inspectors General for Integrity. . and Efficiency.

According to the letter, Cuffari previously refused to investigate the Secret Service for unnecessary use of force in releasing protesters near the White House and for its COVID-19 protocols.

“This is not the first time that Inspector General Cuffari has shown reluctance to investigate the Secret Service,” the lawmakers wrote. “There is a precedent for inspectors general to walk away from an ongoing investigation in cases where there are concerns about their independence.”

Lawmakers asked Lerner to “appoint a different inspector general to complete the investigation.”

CBS News has reached out to the DHS Office of Inspector General and the department for comment.

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