The Defense Department yesterday acknowledged wiping the phones of top department and Army officials at the end of the Trump administration, deleting any text communications from key witnesses to the events leading up to and on the day of the Capitol attack.
A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit has been filed by watchdog group American Oversight against both the Army and the Department of Defense.
Attorneys for the government let American Oversight know that the records weren’t preserved earlier this year. A joint status report filing with the court said:
“DOD and the 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. 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 government watchdog group is calling on the Justice Department to launch a cross-agency investigation into the destruction of materials related to Jan. 6th after the revelation that members of the U.S. Secret Service and key Department of Homeland Security officials have had data erased during the same time frame.
American Oversight Executive Director Heather Sawyer told CNN:
“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.”
The transfer of power from the Trump administration to the Biden administration happened on January 20, 2021. The original Freedom of Information Act request was almost two weeks prior — just days after the insurrection — and American Oversight filed a legal complaint in March 2021 over non-compliance with the request.
Records requested from acting Secretary of Defense Chad Wolf, chief of staff Kash Patel, and former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy were among those erased – all three men were involved in the DoD response to sending National Guard troops to the Capitol.
The group has cited a federal records law that requires the government to preserve records with “informational value.”
“I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone could argue with a straight face that communications happening between these top officials on January 6 would not have the type of informational value that the Federal Records Law is meant to reach,” Sawyer said.
There was no comment from Wold, Patel, or McCarthy on the investigation, but Paul Ney, former general counsel for the Department of Defense, is adamant that no wrongdoing occurred on his end, saying that he “did not wipe the phone before I turned it in.”
Ney does concede that data deletion is very possible, “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.”
Former acting secretary Miller testified before the House Select committee investigating Jan 6th that then-President Trump never ordered or authorized 10,000 National Guard troops ahead of the insurrection, saying in a video, “I was never given any direction or order or knew of any plans of that nature.”
Sources close to the department say they assumed the records would be archived after turning them in.
Original reporting by Tierney Sneed and Zachary Cohen at CNN.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick.