But at a June 18 meeting to discuss possible new investigations, Cuffari said the office would not probe the Secret Service’s handling of the protests or clearing of the square, according to the two people familiar with the discussion. Instead, the inspector general suggested that Secret Service Director Jim Murray could look into the episode, they said.
Two months later, Cuffari moved to curtail another proposed inquiry related to the Secret Service.
At the time, routine internal reports on the numbers of new positive coronavirus cases among DHS employees showed the number of infections among Secret Service employees had risen quickly. On Aug. 10, a special review team submitted a proposal to investigate what steps the Secret Service was taking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among its workers.
In an Aug. 13 meeting to consider proposed investigations, Cuffari questioned the level of risk involved that the office would be scrutinizing, according to the people familiar with the discussion.
Investigators told Cuffari that if Secret Service agents and officers were spreading the coronavirus, more of them could get sick and possibly die. It would also increase the risk of exposure for the people the Secret Service protected, including the president.
Cuffari told the team they should narrow the probe, and suggested only examining how the spread of the coronavirus affected the Secret Service’s investigative work rather than its protection assignments.
But coronavirus infections in the Secret Service were falling the hardest on agents and officers working protective roles, who were required to travel around the country to secure public rallies for Trump’s campaign.
Many Secret Service agents who worked near the president opted not to wear masks in the early days of the virus’s arrival in the United States. Some members of the president’s detail urged other agents not to wear masks when they helped secure sites for presidential trips, saying the president didn’t like to see them.
In the end, the investigation was shelved, according to records and the people familiar with the decision.
Paulson said the office has devoted significant resources to examining the handling of the pandemic inside DHS, especially in detention settings.
“COVID-19 was and is a significant risk for DHS and we have numerous investigations, inspections and audits that appropriately address those risks throughout DHS,” she said in her statement.
The reluctance by Cuffari to pursue the Secret Service probes came even as Democratic lawmakers were pushing his office to more aggressively investigate DHS.
“The legal basis for this use of force has never been explained,” they wrote of the Lafayette Square clearing. “The Administration’s insistence on deploying these forces over the objections of state and local authorities suggest that these tactics have little to do with public safety, but more to do with political gamesmanship.”
Cuffari’s office did launch a probe related to DHS personnel dispatched to protests in Portland. In November, the office issued an alert on a technical matter, finding that the Federal Protective Service did not properly designate its employees by name who were sent to protect federal property there.
In March of last year, Thompson, the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said he was deeply troubled by many failures and factual flaws in an investigation by Cuffari’s office of the death of an 8-year-old boy in U.S. custody after Customs and Border Patrol agents detained him and his father at the border.
Thompson said the report inaccurately stated the cause of the child’s death, left out key details about the detention facility’s delay in treating the child and failed to examine whether the policies at the facility were followed or sufficient to prevent such a tragedy.
Thompson said “the many critical shortcomings in the work of the OIG raise significant concerns about the thoroughness of the office’s reviews as well as the willingness of the office to conduct in-depth examinations of sensitive topics.”
The Post reported last year that the number of investigations conducted under Cuffari’s watch had plummeted, noting that lawmakers from both parties were concerned. At the time, Cuffari’s office was on pace to conduct 40 investigations and audits by the end of the fiscal year that ended in September 2020, the fewest in nearly two decades. That would have represented one-fourth the productivity of the office in the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Productivity has increased markedly since then, according to the list of reports on the inspector general’s public website. The office completed 80 reports by the end of the 2020 fiscal year.