It comes as congressional and Justice Department criminal investigators seek to piece together an effort by the president and his allies to overturn the election results, which culminated in a pro-Trump rally that turned into a violent riot. in the halls of Congress.
The Department of Homeland Security informed the agency’s inspector general in late February that Wolf and Cuccinelli’s texts had been lost during a “reset” of their government phones when they left their jobs in January 2021 in preparation of the new Biden administration, according to an internal file obtained by the Project on Government Oversight and shared with The Washington Post.
The office of the department’s undersecretary for management also told the government watchdog that text messages from his boss, undersecretary Randolph “Tex” Alles, the former director of the Secret Service, were also no longer. available due to a previously scheduled phone reset.
Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari’s office did not press department leadership at the time to explain why they had not kept those records, nor did they seek ways to recover the lost data, according to the four people briefed on the watchdog’s actions. Nor did Cuffari alert Congress to the potential destruction of government documents.
The revelation follows the discovery that text messages from Secret Service agents – critical first-hand witnesses to the events leading up to January 6 – were deleted more than a year ago and may never be recovered .
News of their missing records sparked a firestorm as the texts could have corroborated the account of a former White House aide describing the president’s state of mind on January 6. In one instance, the aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, said a senior official told her that Trump tried to attack a senior Secret Service agent who refused to take the president to the Capitol with his supporters parading there. .
In a nearly identical scenario to the DHS leadership texts, the Secret Service alerted Cuffari’s office seven months ago, in December 2021, that the agency had deleted thousands of text messages from agents and employees. during an agency-wide government reset. Telephone (s. Cuffari’s office did not brief Congress until mid-July, despite pending requests from several congressional committees for these records.
Wolf and Cuccinelli’s phone and text communications in the days leading up to Jan. 6 could have shed considerable light on Trump’s actions and plans. In the weeks leading up to the attack on the Capitol, Trump had pressured the two men to help him claim the 2020 election results were rigged and even seize voting machines in key swing states for attempt to “relaunch” the election.
“It is extremely troubling that the issue of deleted text messages related to the January 6 attack on the Capitol is not limited to the Secret Service, but also includes Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, who were running DHS at the time,” said House Homeland Security. committee chair Bennie G. Thompson said in a statement.
“It appears that the DHS Inspector General was aware of these suppressed texts months ago but did not notify Congress,” Thompson said. “Had the Inspector General briefed Congress, we might have been able to get better accounts from senior administration officials regarding one of the most tragic days in the history of our democracy.”
Neither Cuccinelli nor Wolf responded to requests for comment. The DHS Inspector General’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The discovery of missing documents for top Department of Homeland Security officials during the final days of the Trump administration raises new questions about what might have been learned, as well as other text messages and evidence that the department and ‘other agencies could have erased. , in apparent violation of the Federal Records Act.
Wolf and Cuccinelli had remained at DHS as Trump openly challenged the 2020 election results, even as the agency spearheaded efforts to help state and local governments protect the integrity of election results.
Beginning in late December, numerous DHS intelligence units across the country warned of extremely disturbing chatter on white nationalist and pro-Trump social media platforms that encouraged coming armed to Trump’s Jan. 6 rally. and used violence to prevent Biden from becoming president.
In late December, Trump denounced at a Cabinet meeting that his secretaries were not properly helping him investigate the fraud that ‘gave’ Joe Biden the election by bribery, but cited unsubstantiated allegations. Trump fired Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in a tweet after Krebs countered Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud and complained that Wolf should have acted faster to force Krebs out.
On New Year’s Eve 2020, Trump also called Cuccinelli to pressure him to seize voting machines in swing states and help block the peaceful transfer of power. Trump falsely told her that the acting attorney general had just said it was Cuccinelli’s job to seize the voting machines “and you’re not doing your job.”
Cuccinelli was in Washington the day of the attack and visited the Capitol that night to assess the damage. Wolf was on an official trip to the Middle East.
After the Capitol attack, several lawmakers called for hearings into why DHS failed to anticipate the threat Trump supporters posed to Congress on the day lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence anticipated. to certify the results of the elections.
Wolf had resigned five days after the Capitol attack and cited “recent events” as well as court rulings questioning his legitimacy to continue leading the department as acting secretary for 14 months.
“Effective at 11:59 p.m. today, I am stepping down as Acting Secretary,” Wolf wrote in a message to the department. “I am saddened to take this step, as I intended to serve the Department until the end of this administration.”
In an interview a few days later with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the outgoing acting secretary said Trump was partly responsible for the events of Jan. 6.
“I was disappointed that the president didn’t speak out sooner on this. I think he had a role to play. I think, unfortunately, the administration has lost a bit of morality on this issue by not speaking out about it sooner,” he said of Trump not being quick to condemn the violence.
A Government Accountability Office report in 2020 found that Wolf and Cuccinelli were ineligible to fill their positions because their appointments had not followed the correct order of succession, an issue that the GAO referred to the Office of the Inspector General of DHS.
Unlike Trump, Wolf did not challenge the election results and said DHS was preparing for the “orderly and smooth transition to President-elect Biden’s DHS team.”
“Welcome them, educate them and learn from them,” Wolf said then. “They are your leaders for the next four years – a time that will no doubt be full of challenges and opportunities to show the American public the value of DHS and why it is worth the investment.”
Wolf had become Trump’s favorite DHS secretary, the president’s fourth choice for the job in just four years in office. Trump promoted his first secretary John Kelly to White House chief of staff, then fired Kelly from that post for failing to comply with his orders. He had fired Kelly’s successor, Kirstjen Nielsen, for balking at some of Trump’s demands on how to handle migrants crossing the border, which Nielsen knew was illegal.
The third secretary, Nielsen’s successor Kevin McAleenan, became frustrated with the way Trump tried to politicize the department during his re-election and left after just seven months. Then Trump appointed Wolf as his acting secretary and found the fourth time was a charm. Wolf has repeatedly touted Trump’s immigration record as stellar and has also deployed department personnel to crush Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, to help promote Trump’s message of law and order. to voters.
Trump had appointed Cuccinelli to key DHS positions after seeing him defend his immigration agenda on television.
Trump’s allies still believe Wolf has served him well. Wolf is among those mentioned this month in a Axios article as someone Trump could ask to return to government service if Trump successfully runs for president in 2024.