The admission that Pentagon officials’ phones were wiped was revealed for the first time in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by US censors against the Department of Defense and the Army. The monitoring group is seeking Jan. 6 records from former Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, former Chief of Staff Cash Patel, and former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, among other senior Pentagon officials — after they filed initial Freedom of Information Act requests just days after the Capitol attack. .
Miller, Patel, and McCarthy are seen as important witnesses to understanding the government’s response to the January 6 Capitol attack and former President Donald Trump’s response to the breach. All three participated in the Defense Department’s response to sending National Guard troops into the U.S. Capitol as riots erupted. There is no indication that the officials themselves cleared the records.
The government’s assertion in the filings that officials’ text messages from that day were not preserved is the latest blow to efforts to bring transparency to the events of January 6th. Missing letters from the Secret Service 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 ongoing litigation,” U.S. Army Chief of Media Relations, Col. Kathy Wilkinson, said in a statement.
The US watchdog is now calling for a “cross-agency investigation” by the Department of Justice to investigate the material’s destruction.
“It is amazing to think that the agency did not understand the importance of preserving its records – in particular [with regards] To senior officials who may have been arrested: What were they doing, when they were doing it, why were they doing that that day,” Heather Sawyer, executive director of US censorship, told CNN.
Sawyer said her organization learned that the records were not kept by government attorneys earlier this year, and that acknowledgment was then memorialized in a joint case report submitted to the court in March.
The government said in the filing: “The Ministry of Defense and the Army have informed the plaintiff that when an employee separates from the Ministry of Defense or the Army, he turns over the government-issued phone, and the phone is erased.” “For those trustees who are no longer with the agency, text messages are not retained and therefore cannot be searched, although certain text messages can be saved to other records systems such as email.”
The admission of not keeping records has gained new prominence in the wake of the ongoing scandal over the loss of Secret Service agents’ texts since January 6.
“It only reveals a widespread lack of taking seriously the obligation to keep records, to ensure accountability, and to ensure accountability to their partners in the legislature and to the American people,” Sawyer said.
This pattern across multiple agencies has prompted her organization to write to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is already facing a request from Congressional Democrats to take over the Department of Homeland Security’s investigation into missing Secret Service texts.
“I think it is unlikely that anyone would openly argue that the communications that occur between these high-ranking officials on January 6 will not have the same informational value as the Federal Records Act is supposed to,” Sawyer said. The US watchdog is seeking records of a number of other Pentagon officials — some of whom are still in government service.
“For those guardians who remain with the agency, the Army has begun searching for text messages responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, and estimates to complete the supplemental search by the end of September,” the Justice Department said in the July joint filing of the case.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice declined to comment.
What the Pentagon was hearing from the White House when the Capitol attack was revealed was the focus of the House investigation on Jan. 6, and lawmakers say addressing the security holes that day is one of the goals of their investigation.
Last week, the House committee released a Jan. 6 affidavit that Miller presented to the committee denying that former President Donald Trump played with him on an official order to send 10,000 troops to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“I have not received any directive, order, or knowledge of any such plans,” Miller said in the video.
A spokesman for the Jan. 6 commission declined to comment on the Pentagon-related records.
A former Department of Defense official from a previous CNN administration told CNN that this service is ingrained in new hires while on board that their work machines are subject to the Presidential Records Act and indicated that their communications will be archived. It is assumed that when their devices are handed over at the end of their work, the source said, any communication logs will be archived.
This story has been updated with additional details.