As text messages from various branches of the U.S. government take center stage, a watchdog group that sued for the records of the Department of Defense (DOD) revealed the DOD failed to retain messages relating to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
The discovery was made after American Oversight filed a public record request for the communications of former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller.
The groups sought the communications from the days after the Capitol attack but were informed during litigation that the information hadn’t been preserved.
In a March court filing, the agencies wrote: “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. For those custodians no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore could not be searched.”
The disclosure emerged as the Department of Homeland Security’s erasure of text messages is under intense scrutiny. Numerous DHS officials — including former acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli — had their phones reset after the inauguration, leaving no communication from the days surrounding Jan. 6, 2021.
As the Jan. 6 Select Committee sought the texts, Inspector General at the DHS notified Congress that messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 had been erased during a device replacement program.
Following the disclosure by the DOD, American Oversight’s executive director Heather Sawyer wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging him to investigate the erasure.
The letter stated: “DOD has apparently deleted messages from top DOD and Army officials responsive to pending FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests that could have shed light on the actions of top Trump administration officials on the day of the failed insurrection.”
The letter continues, stating the group “urges” Garland “to investigate DOD’s actions in allowing the destruction of records potentially relevant to this significant matter of national attention and historical importance.”