The phones of senior Pentagon officials were erased from the January 6 messages

The Pentagon erased a potential trove of documents related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol from the phones of senior Trump administration defense officials, according to legal documents.

Court records published on the website of watchdog group American Oversight say the Pentagon “wiped” government-issued phones of senior Department of Defense and military officials tasked with mobilizing the National Guard to respond to the Capitol attack, including then-Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller and then-Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy. The erasure was apparently done in accordance with Department of Defense and Army policy for departing employees, according to documents that state, “text messages were not retained.”

The admission strikes a blow not only to American Oversight’s efforts to unearth critical communications about the attack, but also to the House Jan. 6 Special Committee, which had asked Pentagon leaders to retain and share all documents related to the riot. It also makes the Department of Defense the last known part of the federal government, including the Secret Service and other parts of the Department of Homeland Security, to suppress records that could have helped investigators piece together what happened. passed on January 6 – and the degree to which President Donald Trump was responsible for the delays in the response.

“From the reports on the Secret Service and senior DHS officials, it’s becoming pretty clear that this is not just a DOD problem, not just an Army problem, but multiple agencies,” said American Oversight spokeswoman Dara Silvestre.

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On Tuesday, the group’s executive director, Heather Sawyer, appealed in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland to open an investigation into “the DOD’s failure to preserve text messages from several senior officials on the day of the 6 January or thereabouts.”

β€œThe apparent deletion of records beginning Jan. 6 by multiple agencies reinforces the need for an interagency investigation into the possible destruction of federal records,” the letter continues.

Last week, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a similar request to Garland, asking her to investigate missing Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security text messages.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. An Army spokeswoman said: “Our policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation.”

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the deletions were just a standard “process”.

“No one was trying to hide or conceal anything,” the official said. “That would be a false narrative.”

The American Oversight case began with a series of Freedom of Information Act requests, filed with various government agencies less than a week after Trump-inspired rioters attacked the Capitol in an attempt to stop President Biden from to be declared the winner of the 2020 election. Among the documents sought were text messages and Signal messages, Silvestre said. The deletions appear to have been made after the FOIA requests were filed.

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The Department of Defense produced a handful of heavily redacted emails, but no phone communication, according to the group.

The Pentagon’s admission that it had erased the phones was included as part of a joint status report filed in March, but was not made public until Tuesday by American Oversight. Silvestre said that over the following months the group tried to work with the agencies “to try to get them to release as many as possible” as some phone records were allegedly kept.

The suit isn’t just looking for records of former top officials like Miller and McCarthy. He also requested telephone communications from General James McConville, Army Chief of Staff, and Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, Director of the Army Staff, who still work at the Pentagon. and whose texts and secure messages should not have been deleted. According to court records, the military began a search of those records last September, and another court filing updating the status of that search is expected next month.

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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