The admission that Pentagon officials’ phones had been wiped was first revealed in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by American Oversight against the Department of Defense and the military. The watchdog group is looking for documents dated Jan. 6 from former acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, former Chief of Staff Kash Patel and former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, among other prominent Pentagon officials, who delivered the first FOIA just days later. submitted requests. the attack on the Capitol.
Miller, Patel and McCarthy have all been seen as crucial witnesses to understanding the government’s response to the January 6 attack on the Capitol and former President Donald Trump’s response to the breach. All three were involved in the Department of Defense response to sending National Guard troops to the US Capitol as the riots unfolded. There is no suggestion that the officials themselves erased the data.
The government’s claim on the files that the officials’ text messages from that day were not kept is the final blow to efforts to make the events of January 6 transparent. loss of Secret Service messages that day.
Miller declined to comment. Patel and McCarthy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The head of US military media relations, Colonel Cathy Wilkinson, said in a statement, “It is our policy not to comment on pending lawsuits.”
Former Defense Department General Counsel Paul Ney told CNN Tuesday’s disclosure is the “first I’ve heard of DoD lawsuits in which there’s a problem with the cell phone I turned in when I left DoD on Jan. 20.” 2021 .
“I didn’t wipe the phone before I handed it in (or ever that I can remember),” Ney continued. “When I turned in the phone, I didn’t know what was going to happen to that device, nor do I know what was actually done to that device after I turned it in. If DoD suggested in a lawsuit that the device was wiped after I got DoD left on the day of the inauguration, I think it’s very likely what happened and when it happened, but I don’t know why.”
American Oversight is now calling for a “cross-agency investigation” by the Department of Justice to investigate the destruction of the materials.
“It’s just astonishing to believe that the agency failed to understand the importance of preserving its records – in particular [with regards] to the top officials who may have recorded what they did, when they did it, why they did it, it on that day,” Heather Sawyer, executive director of American Oversight, told CNN.
Sawyer said her organization learned earlier this year that the files were not being kept from state attorneys, and that admission was subsequently commemorated in a joint status report filed with the court in March.
“DOD and military have informed Plaintiff that if an employee separates from DOD or military, he or she will surrender the government-issued phone and the phone will be erased,” the government said in the file. “For those custodians who are no longer with the agency, the text messages were not kept and therefore could not be searched, although it is possible that certain text messages would have been stored in other filing systems such as email.”
The admission that the archives have not been preserved has taken on new meaning in the wake of the ongoing scandal over the loss of Secret Service agents’ texts from January 6.
“It just reveals a widespread failure to take seriously the obligation to hold data, to be accountable, to be accountable to their partners in the legislature and to the American people,” Sawyer said.
The multi-agency pattern has prompted her organization to write to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is already facing a request from Congressional Democrats to take over DHS’s investigation into the Secret Service’s missing texts.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone with a straight face could argue that the communication between these top officials on Jan. 6 would not have the kind of informational value that the Federal Records Law is intended to achieve,” Sawyer said. American Oversight is seeking records of several other Pentagon officials — some of whom remain in government.
“For the custodians still with the agency, the military has begun a text message search in response to the FOIA requests, estimating that their additional search will be completed by the end of September,” the Justice Department said in the joint statement. July filing in the case.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
What the Pentagon heard from the White House as the Capitol attack unfolded was a focus of the Jan. 6 House investigation, and lawmakers say addressing the day’s security concerns is a goal of their investigation.
The House Jan. 6 Committee last week released testimony that Miller gave to the panel, denying that former President Donald Trump ever formally ordered him to have 10,000 troops ready to be deployed to the Capitol on Jan. 6. .
“I was never given any direction or order or knew of any plans of that nature,” Miller said in the video.
A Jan. 6 commission spokesman declined to comment on data related to the Pentagon.
A former Defense Department official from a previous administration told CNN it was ingrained in new hires during their onboarding that their work equipment was subject to the Presidential Records Act and indicated that their communications would be archived. The source said it was believed that when they turned in their devices at the end of their employment, all communication data would be archived.
This story has been updated with additional details.