- A watchdog group filed a FOIA request for Jan. 6 messages between top Pentagon and Army officials.
- But the Defense Department and Army claimed all messages were deleted after employees left the agencies.
- Some messages belonged to officials directly involved with the DoD’s response to the Capitol attack.
Text messages between several top officials in the Department of Defense and the Army were deleted shortly after they left the Trump administration, leaving a significant hole in correspondence that may have occurred on the day of the Capitol attack.
American Oversight, a DC-based watchdog group, had sought all communications related to the Capitol riot from several senior members of the Trump administration, including the former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, and former Acting Secretary of Defense Kash Patel.
The watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit six days after the January 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
“The lawsuit seeks the release of communications those officials had with former President Trump, former Vice President Pence, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, or anyone communicating on their behalf on Jan. 6,” the watchdog group wrote in a press release .
In March of this year, the Defense Department and the Army responded that any messages from former employees of their agencies could not be reproduced because the phones were “wiped” after they left, according to court filings.
“DoD and Army conveyed to plaintiff that when an employee separates from DoD or Army he or she turns in the government-issued phone, and the phone is wiped,” the court document stated. “For those custodians no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore could not be searched, although it is possible that particular text messages could have been saved into other records systems such as email.”
The Army did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An officer for the Defense Department said that the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Some of the messages American Oversight is seeking belong to top officials who are seen as key witnesses to the Pentagon’s response to the January 6 attack.
Miller, who was deposed by investigators of the riot, previously said he was “never given any direction or order or knew of any plans” to deploy 10,000 National Guard troops — a claim Meadows once made to Fox News host Sean Hannity.
McCarthy has also been of interest for the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot. A senior Army official once wrote in a memo that the former Army secretary was “incommunicado or unreachable for most of the afternoon” on the day of the attack, according to Politico.
Retrieving communications from key Trump officials and players throughout January 6, 2021, has lately become a cumbersome task, faced with roadblock after roadblock.
When the January 6 House panel requested messages between Secret Service agents, Joseph Cuffari, who served as inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, claimed that any correspondence was deleted as part of a pre-planned “system migration” process.
Members of the January 6 committee asked Cuffari on Tuesday to “step aside” from any investigation into the Secret Service after reports revealed that Cuffari’s office may have known about the deleted text messages earlier than was previously revealed.