The admission that the phones of Pentagon officials had been wiped was first revealed in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that American Oversight filed against the Department of Defense and the Army. The watchdog group is seeking the Jan. 6 records of former Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, former Chief of Staff Kash Patel, and former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, among other top Pentagon officials, who filed initial FOIA requests just days after. the attack on the Capitol.
Miller, Patel and McCarthy have been seen as crucial witnesses in understanding the administration’s response to the Jan. 6 assault on Capitol Hill and former President Donald Trump’s reaction to the rape. All three were involved in the Defense Department’s response to sending National Guard troops to the US Capitol as the riots raged. There is no suggestion that the officials themselves erased the records.
The government’s claim in the files that officials’ text messages from that day were not preserved is the latest blow to efforts to bring transparency to the events of January 6. It comes as the Department of Homeland Security is also under fire for the apparent loss of Secret Service messages that day.
Miller declined to comment. Patel and McCarthy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Defense Department did not immediately respond to CNN’s request. The head of media relations for US Army Public Affairs, Col. Cathy Wilkinson, said in a statement that “it is our policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.”
American Oversight is now calling for an “interagency investigation” by the Department of Justice to investigate the destruction of the materials.
“It is amazing to believe that the agency failed to understand the importance of preserving its records, particularly [with regards] to senior officials that they might have picked up: what were they doing, when were they doing it, why were they doing it that day,” Heather Sawyer, executive director of American Oversight, told CNN.
Sawyer said his organization learned that records were not kept from government attorneys earlier this year, and that acknowledgment was memorialized in a joint status report filed with the court in March.
“The plaintiff was advised by DOD and the military that when an employee separates from DOD or the military, he or she surrenders the government-issued phone and the phone is wiped,” the government said in the filing. “For those custodians who are no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore could not be searched, although certain text messages may have been saved in other record systems, such as email. electronic”.
The acknowledgment that the records were not preserved has taken on a new meaning in the wake of the ongoing scandal over the loss of the January 6 Secret Service agent texts.
“It just reveals a pervasive failure to take seriously the obligation to preserve records, ensure accountability, ensure accountability to their partners in the legislature and to the American people,” Sawyer said.
The pattern at various agencies has prompted his organization to write to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is already facing a request from congressional Democrats to take over the DHS investigation into the missing Secret Service texts.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone could frankly argue that the communications between these top officials on January 6 would not have the kind of informational value that the Federal Records Act is intended to achieve,” Sawyer said. American Oversight is seeking records of several other Pentagon officials, some of whom remain in government service.
“For those custodians still with the agency, the Army has launched a search for text messages responding to FOIA requests, and estimates to complete its supplemental search by the end of September,” the Justice Department said in the filing. July joint on the case.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
What the Pentagon was hearing from the White House as the attack on Capitol Hill unfolded has been the focus of the House investigation on Jan. 6, and lawmakers say addressing that day’s security lapses is a goal of their research.
The House Jan. 6 committee last week released testimony Miller gave to the panel denying that former President Donald Trump ever gave him a formal order to have 10,000 soldiers ready to deploy to Capitol Hill on Jan. January.
“I was never given any directions or orders nor was I made aware of any plans of that nature,” Miller said in the video.
A spokesman for the Jan. 6 committee declined to comment on the Pentagon-related records.
A former Defense Department official from a previous administration told CNN that during his onboarding, it was ingrained in new hires that their work devices were subject to the Presidential Records Act and indicated that their communications would be archived. The source said that when they handed over their devices at the end of their employment, all communication logs were supposed to be archived.
This story has been updated with additional details.