WASHINGTON — The No. 2 Senate Democrat on Wednesday called for an inspector general investigation into missing text messages from top Defense Department officials in the Trump administration related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he was sending a letter to Sean O’Donnell, the Defense Department’s inspector general, seeking an investigation into the disappearance of text messages from the phones of at least five former Trump administration officials, including Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary; Kash Patel, the Pentagon’s chief of staff; and Ryan D. McCarthy, the Army secretary.
The officials were involved in discussions about sending the National Guard to the Capitol during the mob violence.
“The disappearance of this critical information could jeopardize efforts to learn the full truth about Jan. 6,” Mr. Durbin said in a statement. “I don’t know whether the failure to preserve these critical government texts from Jan. 6 is the result of bad faith, stunning incompetence or outdated records management policies, but we must get to the bottom of it.”
A spokeswoman for the inspector general said he was awaiting Mr. Durbin’s letter and would “review the letter once we receive it.”
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Mr. Durbin’s call for an investigation into the missing texts from the Pentagon came on the same day the Justice Department filed a civil suit against a former White House adviser to Mr. Trump, Peter Navarro, saying that Mr. Navarro had failed to preserve messages from a private email address he used in conducting government business.
In the suit, the Justice Department said that it had reached out to Mr. Navarro about providing the emails, but that he had declined to provide the records “absent a grant of immunity for the act of returning such documents.”
Mr. Navarro was indicted in June on two charges of contempt of Congress after failing to comply with subpoenas from the House Jan. 6 committee seeking his testimony and documents.
Mr. Navarro’s lawyers, John Irving and John Rowley, said that he had “never refused to provide records to the government.”
“As detailed in our recent letter to the Archives, Mr. Navarro instructed his lawyers to preserve all such records, and he expects the government to follow standard processes in good faith to allow him to produce records,” the lawyers said in a statement. “Instead, the government chose to file its lawsuit today.”
In the case of the missing Pentagon texts, Mr. Durbin wrote to the inspector general a day after the watchdog group American Oversight sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland calling for an investigation. CNN reported earlier on the agency’s missing texts.
American Oversight discovered the issue in March through litigation over the Defense Department’s response to public records requests it filed related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. In a court filing, lawyers for the Defense Department and the Army told the group that the government could not produce certain communications because when an administration official leaves a post, “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,” the lawyers wrote, although they added that they would try to retrieve the texts through other means.
American Oversight had been seeking senior officials’ communications with Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6.
The group has specifically asked for the communications of Mr. Miller; Mr Patel; Mr McCarthy; Paul Ney, the general counsel for the Defense Department; Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff; James E. McPherson, the general counsel of the Army; and Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, the director of the Army staff.
Mr. Miller, Mr. Patel, Mr. Ney, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. McPherson all left the Defense Department or the Army by the end of the Trump administration.
Mr. Durbin’s letter came after he called on Mr. Garland last week to take over an investigation into missing Department of Homeland Security text messages from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, 2021, including those on the phones of Secret Service agents. Also missing were the texts of Mr. Trump’s homeland security secretary, Chad Wolf, and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, his deputy.
Two influential House Democrats have also called for two officials at the Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog to testify to Congress about the agency’s handling of missing Secret Service texts from Jan. 6, accusing their office of engaging in a cover-up.