The Defense Department reportedly wiped the phones of key Trump Pentagon officials at the end of the former president’s administration, erasing any texts from key witnesses to events surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, CNN reported.
According to CNN, the development was revealed in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit American Oversight brought against the Defense Department and the Army. The watchdog group is seeking records related to Jan. 6 from former acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, former chief of staff Kash Patel, former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, as well as other key Trump Pentagon officials. American Oversight reportedly filed initial FOIA requests days after the insurrection.
Miller, Patel and McCarthy played roles in the Defense Department’s decision to send National Guard troops to the Capitol amid the insurrection. There is no indication that the officials deliberately deleted the records, according to CNN.
American Oversight told CNN that it is now demanding a “cross-agency investigation” by the Justice Department to probe the lost records.
Heather Sawyer, executive director of American Oversight, told CNN that her organization learned that records of Trump Pentagon officials weren’t preserved from government attorneys earlier this year. The development was mentioned in a joint status report filed in March.
“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 government said in the filing, according to CNN. “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.”
CNN’s report comes amid scrutiny over Secret Service agents’ missing texts surrounding Jan. 6.
On Monday, House Oversight chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Homeland Security chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) — who also chairs the Jan. 6 Select Committee — renewed their calls for DHS inspector general Joseph Cuffari to recuse himself from the investigation into the deleted Secret Service text messages around Jan. 6. The Secret Service had claimed the deletion was a result of a scheduled data migration of its agents’ cell phones that started weeks after the Capitol insurrection.
In their letter to Cuffari on Monday, Maloney and Thompson said they obtained new evidence showing that his office may have “secretly abandoned efforts” to collect text messages from the Secret Service more than a year ago and that it possibly took steps to “cover up the extent” of the missing records.
They noted that Cuffari told Congress for the first time last month that Secret Service text messages from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021 had been deleted. Cuffari’s letter did not mention that a year earlier, senior officials in his office instructed the DHS that the office of inspector general was no longer seeking Secret Service text messages as part of its Jan. 6 probe, citing emails on July 27, 2021 from Cuffari’s deputy, Thomas Kait, to a liaison.
The top Democrats’ letter to Cuffari was issued days after the Washington Post reported that the DHS informed Cuffari in late February that texts sent and received by Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, who served as former President Trump’s top DHS officials, were missing. Cuffari did not report that revelation to Congress at the time.