Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned that text messages from former top political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service, the Department of Defense, and the Army were all deleted toward the end of the Trump administration — a process the various departments and agencies said was carried out through different data wipes and system migration projects.
Notably, this means the texts of top Trump administration officials related to the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, may never see the light of day.
Members of Congress have demanded answers, and watchdog groups and the media have been skeptical. Considering politically-appointed agency heads are legally required to retain their records, it seems more than a little convenient that none of their text exchanges from that period survived beyond Trump’s presidency.
Let’s take a look at what three key administration officials whose texts we lost were up to around then.
The Defense Department fell under the national microscope in early August when the agency admitted that it had erased all text messages from key administration figures after the insurrection.
Six days after the insurrection, the independent watchdog group American Oversight had submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for the messages sent and received by senior officials during that time. On August 2, after over a year of back-and-forths in federal district court, the Defense Department finally admitted in a court filing that the texts “were not preserved and therefore could not be searched.”
In the days leading up to the insurrection, former Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller had consulted with President Trump, the U.S. Capitol Police, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of the Army and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser about how the Defense Department would respond to potential unrest when votes were set to be counted and certified on January 6.
A timeline provided by the Defense Department showed Miller planned to deploy 340 members of the D.C. National Guard should any trouble arise. But when trouble did arise, the National Guard was slow to arrive.
According to the DoD timeline, the former top Pentagon official “provide[d] verbal approval of the full activation” of the National Guard at 3:04 p.m., but the order to deploy wasn’t officially approved until 4:32 p.m.
Miller has since offered contradicting explanations as to who ordered the deployment and when it officially happened. The final call to deploy the guard, the Jan. 6 Committee revealed in June, ultimately came from Vice President Mike Pence, not Trump himself.
Last May, Miller told a House panel that he was reluctant to send troops to the Capitol because he feared that the deployment would be perceived as a military coup attempt.
The text messages that were erased from his agency-issued cell phone might have been able to provide more insight as to how the DoD was thinking about its role in the run-up to the insurrection, who Miller was communicating with during this 90-minute interval between when he said he deployed the troops and when they were actually deployed, and how the order ultimately came down.
Kash Patel, Miller’s former chief of staff, had an unusual route to the White House: Originally a federal public defender, he made a name for himself by helping Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) attempt to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
He was appointed to the White House National Security Council in 2019 where, according to NSC whistleblower Alexander Vindman, he made himself out to be an expert on Ukraine to the president even though he didn’t have the necessary expertise. He was considered for various administration gigs in the final days of the Trump administration — Gina Haspel reportedly planned to resign if he was installed at the CIA — and he wound up as Miller’s chief of staff at DoD.
Patel’s reputation up to that point, and his deep integration into Trumpworld, raise the prospect that he may have played a larger role in the events of that day than his position might otherwise suggest.
In a definitive Vanity Fair article that spoke with Miller, Patel and other DoD officials about the events of Jan. 6, Patel and another Trump loyalist at DoD, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, were described by an administration source as “these Svengalis chained to [Miller] by the White House to make sure that he doesn’t do too much completely honest, forthright stuff.”
“The scuttlebutt is that Miller is the good guy who’s the frontman and it’s [then-under secretary of defense for intelligence Ezra] Cohen and Patel who are calling all the shots,” another source, a senior national security official, told Vanity Fair two weeks after the insurrection.
Patel has insisted, alongside Miller, that they hadn’t tried to contact the president during the attack, but another senior Pentagon official told Vanity Fair that they tried to call him and couldn’t get through. We do know Patel was in touch with Mark Meadows periodically that day.
Patel’s text logs might have been able to clarify his role at DoD, and who he was in touch with that day.
Former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf oversaw a department that assesses domestic threats, and also contains the Secret Service.
He has said that he offered to send reinforcements from DHS just after 2 p.m. on January 6, but the Capitol Police declined the offer.
The agency later dispatched about 100 Secret Service employees to support law enforcement in their mitigation efforts.
Also on that day, at least two agents had an altercation with Trump in the presidential limo during the attack, according to testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchsinson to the Jan. 6 Committee. Hutchinson said she heard about the confrontation from a senior Secret Service official and the Secret Service special agent in charge on Jan. 6.
It begs the question: What were the Secret Service talking to each other about that day? Could text messages confirm her account?
Yet most Secret Service text messages from Jan. 6 have been deleted, as have, apparently, Wolf’s.