(CNN) — The Department of Defense (DoD) wiped the phones of senior department and military officials who left the administration at the end of the Trump administration, deleting text messages from key witnesses to the events surrounding them. January 6, 2021 attack in the U.S. capital, according to court records.
Confirmation that Pentagon officials’ phones were wiped was first revealed in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Defense and the military against the Department of Defense and the military. The watchdog submitted initial FOIA requests on Jan. 6 to former Defense Secretary Chris Miller, former Army Chief of Staff Kash Patel and former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, among other top Pentagon officials. Attack on the Capitol.
Miller, Patel and McCarthy are seen as key witnesses in understanding the government’s response to the January 6 attack on the Capitol and former President Donald Trump’s reaction to the insurgency. All three were involved in the Defense Department’s response to sending National Guard troops to the U.S. Capitol after the riots broke out. There is no suggestion that the authorities themselves destroyed the records.
The government’s claim in the files that officers’ 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 at a time when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is also under fire for apparently losing Secret Service messages from 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. “It is our policy not to comment on pending legal proceedings,” Col. Kathy Wilkinson, head of media relations for the U.S. Army, said in a statement.
The US watchdog has now called for an “interagency investigation” by the Justice Department to investigate the destruction of the materials.
“It is simply staggering to believe that the agency has failed to understand the importance of protecting its records, especially [con respecto] “Higher officials may have captured: what they’re doing, when they’re doing it, why they’re doing it, that day,” Heather Sawyer, executive director of American Oversight, told CNN.
Sawyer said his organization learned earlier this year that the records had not been preserved through government prosecutors, and recalled the acknowledgment in a joint position statement filed in court in March: “The Department of Defense and the Army informed the plaintiff that when an employee separates from the Department of Defense or the Army, he or she is provided by the government. After handing over the phone, the phone will be wiped,” the government filed. “For officers no longer with the agency, the text messages are not protected and therefore not searchable, although some text messages may have been stored in other record systems, such as email.”
With the ongoing scandal over the disappearance of Secret Service agents’ text messages since January 6, the acknowledgment that the records were not protected has taken on new importance.
“It shows a lack of seriousness in protecting records, ensuring accountability, ensuring accountability to their partners in the legislature and to the American people,” Sawyer said.
The Secret Service said the text messages were lost as a result of a data move from its agents’ cellphones that began on January 27, 2021, exactly three weeks after the attack on the US Capitol. Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Gaffari first learned that those messages had disappeared in May 2021, CNN previously reported.
The multi-agency pattern prompted his agency to write to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is already facing demands from congressional Democrats to take over the DHS investigation into the Secret Service’s missing text messages.
“American oversight urges you to investigate the actions of the Department of Defense. The Department of Homeland Security has been investigated for similar failures,” he said, citing the Democratic senator’s calls. The letter saidshared with CNN on Tuesday.
After filing FOIA requests with the Department of Defense and the military, American supervision The Pentagon says it acknowledged receipt of the request on January 15, 2021. American Oversight filed a lawsuit in March to compel the release of the records. In addition to the FOIA obligations that the US watchdog says the Pentagon has ignored by failing to protect the records, Sawyer also pointed to a separate federal records law that requires the government to protect records that “have the informational value of the data they contain.”
“I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to seriously argue that the communications between these top officials on January 6 did not have the informational value that the Federal Records Act seeks to achieve,” Sawyer said. The US watchdog is seeking the records of several Pentagon officials, some of whom are still in government service.
“For those officials with the agency, the Army has begun a search for text messages in response to FOIA requests and estimates it will complete its supplemental search by the end of September,” the Justice Department said in a July joint filing. case.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
One of the goals of the Jan. 6 House hearing was what the Pentagon heard from the White House as the attack on Capitol Hill unfolded, and lawmakers say one of the goals of his research was to address security lapses that day.
The House Jan. 6 Committee released Miller’s testimony to the committee last week, denying that former President Donald Trump gave him a formal order on Jan. 6 to have 10,000 troops ready to deploy to Capitol Hill.
“I was not given any direction or command nor was I aware of any plan of that nature,” Miller said in the video.
Jan. 6 A spokeswoman for the commission declined to comment on Pentagon records.
A former Defense Department official from the previous administration told CNN that the new hires were instructed that their work devices were subject to the President’s Records Act and that their communications would be archived. When they handed over their devices after the job was done, all communication logs were to be archived, the source said.
— Jeremy Herb, Katie Bo Lillis and Ellie Kaufman contributed reporting.
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