Aug 2, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DoD, Army say they did not preserve top Trump officials' text messages

Photo of Trump supporters crowded onto the U.S. Capitol as an American flag flies in the foreground
Thousands of Trump supporters violently storm the Capitol to support then-President Trump's baseless claims that he won the election on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington D.C. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Department of Defense and the U.S. Army have confirmed in court filings that some former senior Trump administration officials had their phones wiped at the end of former President Trump's term, deleting any text messages that could shed insight into the events leading up to and surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Why it matters: The revelation, a result of litigation by the government watchdog American Oversight, could hamper the Jan. 6 select committee's investigation, especially on the heels of recent confirmation that certain Secret Service messages from January 6th were also deleted.

What they're saying: "[W]hen an employee separates from DOD or Army he or she turns in the government-issued phone, and the phone is wiped," the government said in the filing.

  • "For those custodians no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore could not be searched, although it is possible that particular text messages could have been saved into other records systems such as email."

Context: In January 2021, shortly after the insurrection, American Oversight filed requests for Jan. 6 records from former acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, former chief of staff Kash Patel and former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, among other Pentagon officials, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

  • All three departed from their positions "after American Oversight had submitted FOIA requests specifically seeking text messages and requesting that the agencies take steps to prevent the deletion of potentially responsive records," the watchdog wrote in a letter urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to open an investigation into the failure to preserve communications.
  • American Oversight sued the agency for records after receiving no reply within the designated time period under FOIA.

Worth noting: Miller, Patel and McCarthy were key players in Trump's effort to maintain power after he lost the election. All three were involved in the Defense Department's response to the insurrection.

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