Lawyers for the Department of Homeland Security are evaluating whether or not US Secret Service officials can continue to cooperate with the House select committee investigating theafter the department’s top watchdog ordered the agency to stop investigating what happened to as of that day, three US officials tell CBS News.
In a July 20 letter 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 further investigative activities “, adding that the agency’s efforts to interview potential witnesses or take further action “would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation.”
The letter has prompted a review of US Secret Service cooperation by the DHS Office of the General Counsel, amid concerns that any voluntary appearances by Secret Service officials before oversight officials in the Capitol could interfere with the possible criminal investigation of Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general. for the Department of Homeland Security.
“The DHS Office of General Counsel is reviewing the best legal course 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.”
While US government watchdogs routinely investigate criminal activity, they lack the authority to prosecute. Therefore, if the DHS inspector general discovers evidence of criminal activity during his office’s ongoing investigation into missing US Secret Service text messages, the OIG should refer the matter to the US attorney general. who ultimately determines whether or not to press charges.
John Tien, deputy secretary of the DHS, told reporters Monday that the US Secret Service remains “responsive” amid parallel oversight investigations.
“I think the Secret Service has done the things that we’ve asked them to do. And they’ve certainly been very proactive in responding to all the different events,” Tien said on the sidelines of an awards ceremony for DHS personnel.
No US Secret Service officials have been placed on administrative leave as a result of the ongoing investigation, two Secret Service officials confirm to CBS News.
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault could still force Secret Service agents to appear before the panel by issuing a subpoena. Rep.the vice chairman of the House committee investigating the He said Sunday that the panel is investigating additional subpoenas and remains “fully prepared to contemplate a subpoena” for Virginia Thomas, the 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 only received one text message as a result of the July 15 subpoena to the agency requesting their text messages from January 5 and 6, 2021. The Secret Service said thedue to an agency-wide migration, despite requests for preservation from researchers and Congress.
The select committee says that the Secret Serviceby failing to adequately preserve communications sent and received during the attack on the United States 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 January 6, intensified after former Trump White House aidehe testified at a House select committee hearing last month. Hutchinson told lawmakers that Ornato had revealed former President Donald to a member of his protection team and took the wheel of his presidential SUV during a meeting at the White House on January 6, following his address to supporters on the ellipse.
sources close toHe partially dismissed Hutchinson’s testimony, telling CBS News that both officials deny Trump took the steering wheel or an agent.
Earlier this month, the National Archives pressed for more information from the US Secret Service about “possible unauthorized deletion” of the agency’s text messages. The US government’s top record keeper asked law enforcement to report to the Archives within 30 days, outlining the circumstances surrounding the apparently purged government records.
Two key congressional leaders urged DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to “step aside” amid the Secret Service communications investigation on January 6, after he failed to notify committees of the messages. missing text messages for months after I met them.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, head of both the committee investigating the attack and the House Homeland Security Committee, as well as Rep. Carolyn Maloney, head of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the inspector general did not immediately notify Congress as required by law. after learning about the deleted texts in December.
“The omission left Congress in the dark about key developments in this investigation and may have cost investigators precious time to capture relevant evidence,” the lawmakers said in a letter sent to Cuffari and Allison Lerner, chair of the Board of Inspectors General on Integrity. and Efficiency.
According to the letter, Cuffari previously refused to investigate the Secret Service for unnecessary use of force in clearing out protesters near the White House and for its COVID-19 protocols.
“This is not the first time Inspector General Cuffari has shown his unwillingness to investigate the Secret Service,” the lawmakers wrote. “There is 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.