First on CNN: New Senate bill would strengthen oversight following missing Secret Service texts

Legislation by Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, would update the Inspector General Act of 1978, making it harder to deny records to federal inspectors general.

The bill would clarify that the Privacy Act or the Presidential Records Act could not be used as the basis for denying records to inspectors general, and it would state that the decision to deny an inspector general the access to records could not be delegated to any director or agency. head – like the director of the secret service, for example.

The measure would also require additional briefs to Congress by inspectors general regarding audits, inspections and other matters.

Murphy chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee, which has oversight jurisdiction over the Secret Service. Although the legislation, called the Secret Service Transparency and Accountability Act, targets the agency, it would apply to other federal government inspectors general.

The bill is the latest congressional response to swirling questions about missing Secret Service text messages around Jan. 6, 2021, after DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari wrote in a letter to Congress last month that the Secret Service deleted the text messages he was looking for. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois asked the attorney general to investigate the missing text messages.

There are also questions about missing text messages tied to other federal agencies, including senior DHS officials and deleted phones at the Department of Defense, as CNN first reported on Tuesday.

Questions have also emerged about Cufffari’s handling of the case, as CNN reported that the inspector general’s office was told in May 2021 that there was an issue with the agency’s phone data migration. and that messages may have been lost. Two senior House Democrats, Representatives Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Carolyn Maloney of New York, have called on Cuffari to hand over his investigation to another inspector general.

Murphy’s Legislation focuses on how the messages weren’t delivered in the first place. He said in a statement to CNN that it is clear that the Secret Service “attempted to obstruct the Inspector General’s investigation into the events of January 6 by withholding the tapes and ultimately deleting the text messages.”

“This legislation would prevent the Secret Service from undermining the work of the agency’s watchdog and prevent them from keeping the American people in the dark about what they deserve to know,” Murphy said.

CNN contacted the Secret Service for a response to Murphy’s legislation and has yet to receive a response.

The Secret Service argued it cooperated with the DHS Inspector General’s investigation and that the messages were deleted as part of a previously scheduled phone data migration in January 2021.

A congressional aide said Murphy hopes the legislation will be added to the package of Senate appropriations bills that will likely be picked up later in the year.

CNN’s Whitney Wild contributed to this report.

Norman D. Briggs