(WASHINGTON) — Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general and top watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security, impeded and delayed two investigations into allegations made by the agency’s former top intelligence official, whistleblower Brian Murphy, according to a new report from the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
Cuffari’s actions shielded high-level DHS political appointees, including then-acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his acting deputy secretary, Ken Cuccinelli, from fuller questioning by investigators, according to government records and interviews.
POGO also obtained a formal complaint filed by the former top official in charge of whistleblower protection at Cuffari’s watchdog agency that accused him and his top aides of “gross mismanagement and conduct that undermines the independence or integrity reasonably expected of” the office. The partly redacted complaint makes no specific mention of former intelligence chief Brian Murphy, but government records and interviews show that Murphy’s case is its central focus.
Murphy came forward in the fall of 2020, accusing top White House appointees at the Department of Homeland Security, including Wolf and Cuccinelli, of manipulating intelligence for political gain on hot-button issues that concerned the White House at the time. Murphy claimed he was removed from his job by Wolf in retaliation for making legally protected disclosures about the purported intelligence manipulation.
Wolf has strongly denied those allegations in testimony before the Senate, and did so again in comments to POGO. He also denied that his removal of Murphy from the top intelligence job constituted retaliation.
Internal documents show that Cuffari dragged his feet in launching the probe into Murphy’s claims of retaliation and displayed repeated deference to DHS political appointees while doing so. For example, Cuffari and his deputies pushed inspector general staff to ask questions of some top officials only in writing and to reduce the time allotted for in-person interviews. In at least one instance, the staffers sent questions to Wolf who left the administration before the staffers received his response, which meant he could no longer be required to speak to them.
A spokesperson for Cuffari’s office did not address specific allegations, but told POGO that it “protects the identity of whistleblowers and shares information only with those who have a need to know. We do not publicly discuss whether, or what, whistleblower retaliation investigations are pending.” The spokesperson added that Cuffari had reorganized the Whistleblower Protection Unit, placing it under his legal department to give it “appropriate supervision and leadership,” and also assigned subject-matter experts “to oversee the unit and ensure it applies appropriate legal standards.”
Read the full report here.
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing.
We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.