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The Department of Defense also deleted messages from January 6

(CNN) — The Department of Defense (DOD) wiped the phones of senior Department and Army officials who left the administration at the end of the Trump administration, removing any text messages from key witnesses to the events that surrounded the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol, according to court records.

Confirmation that the phones of Pentagon officials had been wiped was first revealed in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by American Oversight against the Department of Defense and the Army. . The watchdog group is seeking the Jan. 6 records of former Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, former Chief of Staff Kash Patel, and former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, among other top Pentagon officials, having submitted the initial FOIA requests. just a few days after the attack on the Capitol.

Miller, Patel and McCarthy are seen as crucial witnesses in understanding the government’s response to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol and former President Donald Trump’s reaction to the insurrection. All three were involved in the Department of Defense’s response to sending National Guard troops to the US Capitol as the riot unfolded. There is no suggestion that the officials themselves have erased the records.

The government’s claim in the files that officials’ text messages from that day were not preserved is the latest blow to efforts to bring transparency to the events of January 6. It comes at a time when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is also under fire for the apparent loss of Secret Service messages from that day.

Miller declined to comment. Patel and McCarthy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Defense Department did not immediately respond to CNN’s request. The US Army’s chief of media relations, Col. Cathy Wilkinson, said in a statement that “it is our policy not to comment on ongoing legal proceedings.”

American Oversight is now calling for an “interagency investigation” by the Department of Justice to investigate the destruction of the materials.

Hear the Lies Repeated by Trump Supporters About January 6 5:57

“It is simply staggering to believe that the agency failed to understand the importance of preserving its records, particularly [con respecto] top officials they might have captured: what they were doing, when they were doing it, why they were doing it, on that day,” Heather Sawyer, executive director of American Oversight, told CNN.

Sawyer said his organization learned that the records had not been preserved through government attorneys earlier this year, and that acknowledgment was then memorialized in a joint status report filed with the court in March: “The Department Department of Defense and the Army conveyed to the plaintiff that when an employee separates from the Department of Defense or the Army, he or she surrenders the government-issued phone, and the phone is wiped,” the government said in the filing. “For those officials who are no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore not searchable, although certain text messages may have been stored in other record systems such as email.”

The recognition that the records were not preserved has taken on new importance in the wake of the ongoing scandal over the loss of Secret Service agents’ text messages from January 6.

“It reveals a pervasive lack of seriousness in the obligation to preserve records, to ensure accountability, to ensure accountability to their partners in the legislature and to the American people,” Sawyer said.

The Secret Service claimed that the text messages were lost as a result of a previously scheduled data migration of its agents’ cell phones that began on January 27, 2021, exactly three weeks after the attack on the US Capitol. Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari first learned that those messages had disappeared as early as May 2021, CNN previously reported.

The pattern across multiple agencies has prompted his organization to write to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who is already facing a request from congressional Democrats to take over the DHS investigation into the missing text messages. of the Secret Service.

“American Oversight accordingly urges you to investigate the Department of Defense’s actions in allowing the destruction of records potentially relevant to this significant matter of national attention and historical importance,” the letter said, while citing calls from the Democratic senator. Dick Durbin to have the Department of Homeland Security investigated for similar failures, the letter, shared with CNN on Tuesday, said.

After filing the FOIA requests with the Department of Defense and the Army, American Oversight claims that the Pentagon acknowledged receipt of the request on January 15, 2021. American Oversight then filed a lawsuit that March to force disclosure of the data. records. In addition to FOIA obligations that American Oversight says the Pentagon has ignored by failing to preserve records, Sawyer also pointed to a separate federal records law that also requires the government to preserve records that have “informational value of the data in them.” “.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that anyone would seriously argue that the communications that took place between these top officials on January 6 don’t have the kind of informational value that the Federal Records Act is intended to achieve,” Sawyer said. American Oversight is seeking the records of several other Pentagon officials, some of whom are still in government service.

“For those officials who remain with the agency, the Army has launched a search for text messages responding to FOIA requests, and estimates to complete its supplemental search by the end of September,” the Justice Department said. in the July joint filing in the case.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

What the Pentagon was hearing from the White House as the attack on Capitol Hill unfolded has been one of the targets of the Jan. 6 House investigation, and lawmakers say addressing that day’s security lapses is one of the goals of his research.

The House Jan. 6 committee released testimony Miller gave to the panel last week denying that former President Donald Trump ever gave him a formal order to have 10,000 soldiers ready to deploy on Capitol Hill. January 6th.

“I was never given any direction or order nor was I made aware of any plan of that nature,” Miller said in the video.

A spokesman for the Jan. 6 commission declined to comment on the Pentagon-related records.

A former Defense Department official from a previous administration told CNN that new hires are instilled during their onboarding that their work devices are subject to the Presidential Records Act and are instructed that their communications will be archived. The source said that when they handed over their devices at the end of their employment, all communication logs were supposed to be archived.

— Jeremy Herb, Katie Bo Lillis and Ellie Kaufman contributed reporting.

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