Chairs Thompson and Maloney Release 2013 DOJ OIG Memo Raising Ethics and Independence Concerns over DHS IG, Reiterate Call for DHS IG to Stand Aside
(WASHINGTON) – Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, released a memorandum with findings from an internal investigation conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) Joseph Cuffari “ran afoul” of ethics rules and other requirements during his tenure as a special agent for the DOJ OIG in 2012. DOJ OIG conducted its investigation after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona referred then-special agent Cuffari for potential misconduct.
“The 2013 memo we are releasing today raises yet more questions about whether Mr. Cuffari can complete this investigation with impartiality and integrity as Inspector General. We know that Inspector General Cuffari sat on the knowledge of the erased text messages for a year, choosing not to notify Congress and even discouraging his own investigators from recovering key information. Given Mr. Cuffari’s repeated failures, we urge him to heed our call and step aside.”
The April 19, 2013, memorandum released by the Committees found that Mr. Cuffari violated agency requirements and federal ethics regulations, and that other actions may have warranted further review. DOJ OIG produced the memo to the Oversight Committee in response to a previous congressional request.
- Cuffari Used His Public Office for Private Gain
- DOJ OIG found that during the course of a criminal investigation on which he worked, Mr. Cuffari provided the names of two “lawyer friends of his” to the mother of an inmate—a plaintiff in proceedings of wrongdoing against the federal government. Ultimately, two of the lawyers became the inmate’s attorneys in the civil case.
- The investigation found: “Cuffari’s actions had the effect of providing those firms, and thus his friends, a competitive advantage over other Tucson-area law firms and attorneys that might have vied for [REDACTED] case, as well as providing prospective income in the form of attorney’s fees to the firm retained. We found that such a competitive advantage and prospective income was ‘private gain.’”
- The investigation concluded that Mr. Cuffari did not comply with ethics reporting requirements, in violation of the Inspector General Manual’s prohibition on unethical conduct, and that “the existence of a personal friendship between Cuffari and the lawyers whose firm he recommended to the plaintiff’s mother could create the appearance that Cuffari was not fully impartial in his involvement with the civil litigation.”
- Cuffari Violated Agency Requirements, and Investigators Discounted His Explanation for Why He Testified Without Authorization
- The investigation also found that Mr. Cuffari provided testimony in a civil matter at the request of the plaintiff but failed to properly notify DOJ OIG officials. The Inspector General Manual requires that employees who testify in court proceedings “other than OIG matters” obtain approval prior to testifying or providing official OIG information. The investigation memorandum concluded that “Cuffari should have notified the appropriate OIG officials and obtained approval before testifying.”
- The memorandum stated that DOJ OIG investigators “were skeptical of Cuffari’s assertion to us” regarding why he was present at the hearing and that “Cuffari’s purported response was materially different than what he had e-mailed his supervisors about an hour earlier.”
- The investigation further concluded that Cuffari’s failure to provide the required notice to the DOJ OIG “deprived the OIG of the opportunity to make this determination in advance of Cuffari's actions in the case.”
- Other Actions Taken by Cuffari May Warrant Review
- The DOJ OIG identified additional matters during the investigation into Cuffari that “may warrant additional review” but were outside the scope of the report, such as: failing to report on his Confidential Financial Disclosure form his appointment to the Arizona State Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which may result in disciplinary action or criminal prosecution; using his OIG email account to lobby for a position as the Inspector General for the Arizona National Guard; and donating surplus OIG printers to a high school where his wife was the principal without disclosing the circumstances to OGC for review.
Mr. Cuffari retired shortly after the DOJ OIG concluded its investigation. When asked during the Senate confirmation process for his DHS Inspector General appointment whether he had “ever been disciplined or cited for a breach of ethics or unprofessional conduct by, or been the subject of a complaint to, any court, administrative agency, professional association, disciplinary committee, or other professional group?” Mr. Cuffari responded, “No.”
Mr. Cuffari was also asked on his Senate confirmation pre-hearing questionnaire:
At any point during your career, has your conduct as a federal employee ever been the subject of an OIG, Government Accountability Office (GAO), Office of Special Counsel (OSC), Office of Government Ethics (OGE), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or federal law enforcement investigation? Please explain.
In his response, Mr. Cuffari described the scope of the investigation into his misconduct as follows:
While I was working in the DOJ OIG, members of an IG staff interviewed me about concerns expressed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona (D/AZ) stemming from my participation as a criminal investigator in a federal civil rights case, wherein two federal corrections officers were alleged to have physically assaulted a federal inmate who was in their custody. I answered the IG staff’s questions truthfully and completely.
The matter stemmed from an underlying federal criminal investigation wherein I complied with my statutory obligation and U.S. Attorney General Guidelines to inform the crime victim (the federal inmate) of his rights as provided for in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. The victim later retained legal counsel and filed a notice of claim for a civil tort case against the U.S. Government based on the corrections officers’ alleged physical abuse. After the notice of claim was filed, the D/AZ declined to proceed with prosecution in the underlying criminal investigation.
I was subsequently subpoenaed to appear as a fact witness at a deposition and at a follow-up hearing before the U.S. Magistrate Judge, who was presiding over the civil tort case. I answered the judge’s and the attorneys’ questions truthfully and completely. The civil case was subsequently settled between the parties. No adverse action was proposed against me.
Click here to read the 2013 DOJ memorandum.
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