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failure to preserve these critical government texts from Jan. 6 is the result of bad faith, stunning incompetence or outdated records management policies, but we must get to the bottom of it.”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.”
Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings
Making a case against Trump. The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack is laying out a comprehensive narrative of President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Here are the main themes that have emerged so far from eight public hearings:
An unsettling narrative. During the first hearing, the committee described in vivid detail what it characterized as an attempted coup orchestrated by the former president that culminated in the assault on the Capitol. At the heart of the gripping story were three main players: Mr. Trump, the Proud Boys and a Capitol Police officer.
Creating election lies. In its second hearing, the panel showed how Mr. Trump ignored aides and advisers as he declared victory prematurely and relentlessly pressed claims of fraud he was told were wrong. “He’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff,” William P. Barr, the former attorney general, said of Mr. Trump during a videotaped interview.
Pressuring Pence. Mr. Trump continued pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to go along with a plan to overturn his loss even after he was told it was illegal, according to testimony laid out by the panel during the third hearing. The committee showed how Mr. Trump’s actions led his supporters to storm the Capitol, sending Mr. Pence fleeing for his life.
Fake elector plan. The committee used its fourth hearing to detail how Mr. Trump was personally involved in a scheme to put forward fake electors. The panel also presented fresh details on how the former president leaned on state officials to invalidate his defeat, opening them up to violent threats when they refused.
Strong arming the Justice Dept. During the fifth hearing, the panel explored Mr. Trump’s wide-ranging and relentless scheme to misuse the Justice Department to keep himself in power. The panel also presented evidence that at least half a dozen Republican members of Congress sought pre-emptive pardons.
The surprise hearing. Cassidy Hutchinson, a former White House aide, delivered explosive testimony during the panel’s sixth session, saying that the president knew the crowd on Jan. 6 was armed, but wanted to loosen security. She also painted Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, as disengaged and unwilling to act as rioters approached the Capitol.
Planning a march. Mr. Trump planned to lead a march to the Capitol on Jan. 6 but wanted it to look spontaneous, the committee revealed during its seventh hearing. Representative Liz Cheney also said that Mr. Trump had reached out to a witness in the panel’s investigation, and that the committee had informed the Justice Department of the approach.
A “complete dereliction” of duty. In the final public hearing of the summer, the panel accused the former president of dereliction of duty for failing to act to stop the Capitol assault. The committee documented how, over 187 minutes, Mr. Trump had ignored pleas to call off the mob and then refused to say the election was over even a day after the attack.
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.