Mobile phones belonging to top Defence Department officials, including the then-acting Secretary of Defence and senior US army officials, had text messages sent and recieved around the January 6 attack on the Capitol “wiped” from them, according to court documents.
According to a report filed with the US District Court for the District of Columbia as part of a Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit over January 6 records, the Pentagon wiped phones belonging to former Trump administration officials such as ex-acting defence secretary Chris Miller, ex-army secretary Ryan McCarthy, and Mr Miller’s former chief of staff, Kashyap Patel, after they turned them in upon their resignations on 20 January.
Justice department lawyers wrote that the Pentagon had “conveyed” to the transparency group American Oversight that the procedure used when employees leave government service involved wiping their Pentagon-issued mobile phones.
“He or she turns in the government-issued phone, and the phone is wiped,” they wrote. They added that text messages sent and recieved by departed former DOD employees “were not preserved and therefore could not be searched, although it is possible that particular text messages could have been saved into other records sustems such as email”.
In a statement, American Oversight executive director Heather Sawyer called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to open a “cross-agency investigation into this possible destruction of federal records”.
“There are still too many open questions about the role of the Pentagon, Secret Service, and others before and during the attack. Even without our request, DOD should have known that any text messages would be vital to ensuring accountability for January 6,” she said. “The decision to wipe phones and destroy critical records, which came after American Oversight requested them, is unacceptable”.
The revelation that messages from Mr Miller, Mr Patel and Mr McCarthy were destroyed during the transition from the Trump administration to the Biden Administration comes just days after the United States Secret Service became embroiled in a missing messages scandal of its’ own.
Last month, the House January 6 select committee issued a subpoena to the Secret Service demanding text messages sent and recieved by agents on former president Donald Trump’s protective detail before and during the January 6 attack.
The agency produced just a single message, and subsequent revelations made clear that text messages from 5 and 6 January 2021, sent and recieved by Mr Trump’s protective agents, had been wiped as part of what the service described as a pre-planned device migration process. But the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General — a Trump appointee — ordered the agency to stop making any efforts to recover messages sought by the committee, prompting committee members to call for his recusal.