The Department of Defense reportedly wiped the phones of top officials at the end of the Trump administration, deleting any text messages that could potentially provide insight about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
American Oversight unveiled this information in court filings as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the Department of Defense and in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. The government watchdog group urged Garland to “exercise your authority as our nation’s chief law enforcement officer to assume control of the criminal investigation currently underway by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been investigating the loss of text messages and other Jan. 6 communications on Secret Service agents’ phones.
The Department of Defense (DOD) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
American Oversight claimed Tuesday it’s pursuing this legal action after a Freedom of Information Act request it filed with the Defense Department shortly after the Capitol attack reportedly resulted in the department saying it “failed to preserve text messages and other communications stored on phones from top DOD and Army officials.”
Former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, his chief of staff Kash Patel and former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy are considered essential witnesses regarding the Trump administration’s response to the Capitol riot. All three were involved in the Defense Department sending National Guard troops to the Capitol grounds at the time.
The Defense Department and the Army responded to the information request saying the phones were wiped as part of protocol. “[W]hen an employee separates from DOD or Army he or she turns in the government issued phone, and the phone is wiped,” the government told American Oversight in March.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also asked Garland in July to take control of DHS’s investigation into the missing texts.
“The destruction of evidence that could be relevant to the investigation of the deadly attack on our Capitol is an extremely serious matter. Inspector General [Joseph] Cuffari’s failure to take immediate action upon learning that these text messages had been deleted makes it clear that he should no longer be entrusted with this investigation,” Durbin said. “That’s why I’m sending a letter today to Attorney General Garland asking him to step in and get to the bottom of what happened to these text messages and hold accountable those who are responsible.”