January 6 texts from Trump defense officials erased by Pentagon

Aerial view of the United States military headquarters, the Pentagon.

Jason Rose | Reuters

Text messages received and sent by senior Pentagon officials who were part of the Trump administration on January 6, 2021 were erased from their government-issued phones, according to a Federal Court filing that cites Defense Department statements and the army.

Text messages from that day – when a crowd of Trump supporters swarmed the US Capitol – “have not been preserved and therefore could not be traced”, according to this filing.

The document states that Department of Defense and Army officials said, “When an employee separates from [Department of Defense] or the military, he hands over the government-issued phone and the phone is erased.”

The filing in the United States District Court in Washington, D.C., was a joint status report from attorneys involved in a lawsuit filed by watchdog group American Oversight against the Department of Defense, Army, National Guard and the Department of Justice. This lawsuit targets files related to January 6 from a group of former Pentagon officials.

The status report was filed in March.

But that came to light on Tuesday as American Oversight asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate “the Pentagon’s failure to preserve communications, which included those of former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller and of former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, starting Jan. 6,” the group said.

In its letter to Garland, the group noted that the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security is currently conducting a criminal investigation into the deletion of the January 6 text messages from the cellphones of Secret Service agents and officials.

“The apparent deletion of records beginning Jan. 6 by multiple agencies reinforces the need for an interagency investigation into the possible destruction of federal records,” Heather Sawyer, executive director of U.S. Oversight, wrote to Garland.

“We therefore urge you to exercise your authority to take control of the investigation into the
purported deletion of records, as requested by [Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois]and also investigate [Department of Defense] for the same conduct – deleting or destroying records that were previously stored on the mobile devices of such officials, including any text messages (or messages on similar apps, such as Signal or WhatsApp) regarding the agency’s activities on January 6, 2021,” Sawyer wrote.

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