New Senate bill would strengthen oversight in wake of missing Secret Service texts


(CNN)A top Senate Democrat is proposing new legislation in response to missing Secret Service text messages that would make it more difficult for the agency to deny records to the inspector general and require additional briefings to Congress.

The legislation from Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, would update the Inspector General Act of 1978, making it more difficult to deny records to inspectors general across the federal government.

First on CNN: Jan. 6 text messages wiped from phones of key Trump Pentagon officials

The bill would clarify that the Privacy Act or Presidential Records Act could not be used as a basis to deny records to inspectors general, and it would state that the decision to deny an inspector general access to records could not be delegated to any director or agency head — like the director of the Secret Service, for instance.

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

      Murphy chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Homeland Security Committee, which has oversight jurisdiction over the Secret Service. While the legislation, titled the Secret Service Transparency and Accountability Act, is targeted to the agency, it would apply to other inspectors general across the federal government.

        The bill is the latest congressional response to swirling questions over missing Secret Service text messages surrounding January 6, 2021, after DHS inspector general Joseph Cuffari wrote in a letter to Congress last month that the Secret Service had erased text messages he was seeking. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois has called on the attorney general to investigate the missing text messages.

        There are also questions about missing text messages related to other federal agencies, including from top DHS officials and phones being wiped in the Defense Department, as CNN first reported Tuesday.

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

          Murphy’s legislation is focused on how the messages failed to be handed over in the first place. He said in a statement to CNN that it’s clear the Secret Service “tried to impede the inspector general’s investigation into the events of January 6 by withholding records and ultimately erasing text messages.”

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

          CNN has reached out to the Secret Service for response to Murphy’s legislation and has not yet received a response.

            The Secret Service has argued that it has cooperated with the DHS inspector general’s investigation, and that the messages were deleted as part of a previously planned phone data migration in January 2021.

            A congressional aide said that Murphy hoped to get the legislation added to the Senate’s package of appropriations bills that’s likely to be taken up later in the year.

            CNN’s Whitney Wild contributed to this report.