Miller, Patel and McCarthy have all been viewed as crucial witnesses for understanding government’s response to the January 6 Capitol assault and former President Donald Trump’s reaction to the breach. All three were involved in the Defense Department’s response to sending National Guard troops to the US Capitol as the riot was unfolding. There is no suggestion that the officials themselves erased the records. The government’s assertion in the filings that the officials’ text messages from that day were not preserved is the latest blow to the efforts to bring transparency to the events of January 6. It comes as the Department of Homeland Security is also under fire for the apparent loss of messages from the Secret Service that day.
According to court documents, the Defense Department deleted any texts from important witnesses to the events leading up to the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, from the phones of departing senior DOD and Army officials at the conclusion of the Trump administration. The first disclosure of the acknowledgement that the Pentagon officials’ phones had been erased came from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit American Oversight filed against the Army and the Defense Department. After submitting initial FOIA requests just a few days after the Capitol attack, the watchdog group is now looking for records from former acting secretary of defence Chris Miller, former chief of staff Kash Patel, and former secretary of the army Ryan McCarthy, among other notable Pentagon officials.
“I did not wipe the phone before I turned it in (or ever that I can recall),” Ney continued. “When I turned the phone in, I did not know what was going to be done with that device nor do I know what actually was done with that device after I turned it in. If DoD represented in litigation that the device was wiped after I left DoD on Inauguration Day, I believe that is very likely what happened and when it happened, but I do not know why.” American Oversight is now calling for a “cross-agency investigation” by the Justice Department to investigate destruction of the materials.
Miller declined to comment. Patel and McCarthy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The US Army Public Affairs media relations chief, Col. Cathy Wilkinson, said in a statement that, “It is our policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.” Paul Ney, former general counsel for the Department of Defense, told CNN that Tuesday’s revelation is the “first I’ve heard about DoD litigation in which there is any issue with the cell phone I turned in when I left DoD on January 20, 2021.
“It’s just astounding to believe that the agency did not understand the importance of preserving its records — particularly [with regards] to the top officials that might have captured: what they were doing, when they were doing it, why they were doing, it on that day,” Heather Sawyer, American Oversight’s executive director, told CNN. Sawyer said that her organization learned the records were not preserved from government attorneys earlier this year, and that acknowledgment was then memorialized in a joint status report filed with the court in March.