President Biden reviewing conduct of inspector general, weighing termination

President Biden reviewing conduct of inspector general, weighing termination

August 5, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 01: U.S. President Joe Biden walks away from the podium after speaking from the Blue Room balcony of the White House on August 1, 2022 in Washington, DC. Biden announced that over the weekend, U.S. forces launched an airstrike in Afghanistan that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri, 71, took over leadership of al-Qaeda in 2011, shortly after American forces killed Osama bin Laden. The president said there were no civilian casualties in the attack.  (Photo by Jim Watson-Pool/Getty Images)

Just a day ago, White House Press Secretary Karen Jean-Pierre told reporters President Joe Biden would not intervene or seek to fire Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security currently under fire for a series of missing text messages related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. 

But the ground is now shifting, according to The Independent. Citing sources close to the administration, the outlet reported that the White House is now actively reviewing Cuffari’s conduct and in particular, the information contained in a newly public internal report from the Justice Department. That report laid out an extensive series of findings that Cuffari misled investigators when he was working as a special agent in Arizona overseeing an investigation into the assault of a federal inmate by prison guards. Conflicts of interest and self-gain dominated that report. Daily Kos covered it at length in the related story link below.

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There are also looming questions about how forthcoming Cuffari was when he went through his confirmation process in the Senate in 2019.

Former President Donald Trump nominated him to serve as the Department of Homeland Security inspector general in 2018 after firing several others before him. In a questionnaire Cuffari completed before the hearing, the Trump appointee said “no” when asked if he was ever disciplined or cited for a breach of ethics or unprofessional conduct. 

According to the internal report published this week, that answer would appear untrue. 

If Biden were to remove Cuffari, he is required to notify Congress first and this sets a window of 30 days for the removal to take place.

Though Biden is now looking into Cuffari a bit more, the White House was reportedly eager not to entirely contradict itself from its initial statement. When Pierre told reporters gathered in the White House briefing room Thursday that Biden would not review Cuffari’s conduct, she stressed this was because the president wanted inspector generals to remain independent.

RELATED STORY: Army, Department of Defense officials’ messages from Jan. 6 erased

Trump’s appointment of lackeys and yes-men at almost every level of government during his single-term presidency once prompted the House to pass legislation that preserved the independence of inspectors general. The legislation proposed making termination more difficult and requiring greater levels of scrutiny. It never passed the Republican-held Senate, however. 

In a speech this April, Biden reiterated the importance of inspectors general retaining their independence, a carryover from stances he took on the campaign trail to the White House. 

But now the calls for Biden to exercise his authority as questions around Cuffari mount may be too loud to ignore. The Jan. 6 committee, the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and the House Homeland Security Committee have all issued calls for Cuffari to step aside and recuse himself from a probe into the missing Secret Service and Homeland Security texts tied to Jan. 6. 

The respective chairs of those committees, including Rep. Bennie Thompson and Carolyn Maloney, have accused Cuffari of potentially being engaged in a cover-up and have requested that his two deputies, Thomas Kait and Kristen Fredericks, sit for transcribed interviews by Aug. 15.

A representative for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General could not be reached for comment Friday. 

RELATED STORY: Cover-up alleged by top Democrats probing missing Secret Service texts; DHS watchdog asked to recuse