Joseph Cuffari speaks to the Senate Homeland Security Committee during his nomination hearing to be Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security on March 5, 2019.
Washington CNN  — 

The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General is being investigated as part of a newly revealed probe looking into allegations of retaliation, according to documents shared with CNN.

Inspector General Joseph Cuffari, who is responsible for oversight of DHS, is under scrutiny by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, a federal government umbrella group tasked with fielding allegations made against an inspector general. The probe stems from accusations of retaliation related to the authorization of an independent report by law firm WilmerHale that was concluded in late 2020 following complaints of unprofessional behavior by several top Homeland Security officials.

Additional details about the CIGIE investigation, including its precise origins and who brought the complaint, have not been made publicly available.

Cuffari, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, had a tumultuous start at DHS, and has been occasionally accused of looking the other way for political reasons regarding actions that involved the former administration, which he vehemently disputes.

Early in his tenure, personnel issues plagued the inspector general’s office, leading Cuffari’s office to enlist the help of an outside law firm.

In late 2020, WilmerHale completed its independent investigation into allegations that several senior employees engaged in an assortment of unprofessional behavior “that was designed to undermine and contravene the authority of the two Inspector Generals (IGs) to whom they reported at DHS OIG from late 2017 to 2020.”

The heavily redacted report found an “atmosphere of mistrust and unprofessionalism” within the office and concluded: “Their efforts created a culture of fear and retribution within the agency directed at employees deemed insufficiently loyal.”

Sometime after that, the CIGIE investigation was launched, and Cuffari said he was notified about it last spring, according to a written response to the House Homeland Security Committee in June that was obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a nongovernmental organization that investigates government corruption and abuse of power.

Two weeks ago, a top deputy in Cuffari’s office sent an email to the workforce directing all staff to comply with the investigation.

“DHS OIG has been cooperating fully in the IC’s investigation, and it will continue to do so. You are instructed to cooperate if you are approached by the assisting IG in this matter and are asked to provide records, documents, information, or testimony,” Glenn E. Sklar, principal deputy inspector general, wrote to all employees in an email obtained by POGO and shared with CNN.

A DHS Office of Inspector General spokesperson said the office does not comment on pending investigations. CIGIE also declined to comment.

Last April, Cuffari said he had “worked diligently” to build a senior leadership team and “address the issues that have plagued our office.”

“Our ship is heading in the right direction,” he said at the time.

The timeline of this investigation is unclear, but investigations are supposed to be completed within 150 days from the time its referred. Once completed, the watchdog submits a report and recommendation to the head of the agency, along with copies of its report to the relevant congressional committees of jurisdiction, the subject of the investigation and others.

In a statement to CNN, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson said he has “longstanding concerns with the ability of the DHS Office of Inspector General to effectively fulfill its mission, due in part to persistent problems among its leadership. CIGIE’s investigation appears to indicate further cause for concern.”

“I urge full and swift cooperation with this investigation,” he wrote.

A congressional source told CNN there have been some steps towards progress at the inspector general office, but it’s still early to see if they can make all the necessary changes, noting high turnover and outstanding recommendations for the office.

In his June response to the top lawmakers on the House committee, Cuffari said CIGIE is “trying to erase the historical record compiled by WilmerHale” and “attempting to undermine” his attempts to “clean up” the Office of Inspector General.

“I have never heard anyone dispute the findings that WilmerHale made after a comprehensive independent investigation carried out according to the highest standards,” he wrote.

Cuffari added that, “Sweeping WilmerHale’s findings under the rug, as the CIGIE IC is attempting to do, will destroy DHS OIG.”

Both Cuffari and the DHS Office of Inspector General, predating his tenure, have been embroiled in controversies going back years, all while managing the day-to-day business of government oversight for a department of more than 240,000 employees, ranging from Customs and Border Protection to the US Secret Service.

Cuffari has previously told lawmakers that any suggestion that he “pulled punches” for political reasons is a “complete falsehood.”