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On Wednesday, nonpartisan watchdog group American Oversight sued the Department of Defense for failing to release requested documents that could shed light on the events of January 6 and efforts by former President Trump to staff the department with loyalists. The lawsuit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeks to compel the release of top officials’ memos, calendars, and communications following the firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper or related to the failed insurrection.

Statement by Austin Evers, executive director at American Oversight:

“In the weeks after his election loss, Donald Trump’s attempts to maintain power included the purging of top Pentagon officials in favor of loyalists likely to support his election-undermining goals. As the nation continues to learn more about the events of January 6, we’re fighting for the public’s right to know how members of their government responded to efforts to overturn the will of the people.”

Background:

  • Less than a week after the 2020 presidential election, President Trump fired Defense Secretary Esper and forced out other high-level officials, replacing them with loyalists
  • The new officials subsequently dismissed members of multiple Pentagon advisory boards and increased vetting of new DOD hires.
  • Given the circumstances surrounding their appointments and their having held office in the lead-up to the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, American Oversight filed a suite of FOIA requests for records that have the potential to shed light on what these top officials knew before the attack, and how they responded.

Lawsuit Information

Wednesday’s lawsuit asks the court to enforce the FOIA requests filed by American Oversight with the Defense Department.

  • The Defense officials identified in those requests include: 
  • Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller
  • Acting Undersecretary Ezra Cohen-Watnick
  • Chief of Staff Kash Patel
  • White House Liaison Joshua Whitehouse
  • Acting Undersecretary Anthony Tata
  • Senior Adviser Douglas Macgregor
  • The records sought by the requests include:

This lawsuit is the fourth that American Oversight has filed against the Defense Department for records related to the events of Jan. 6. Those lawsuits seek: 

  • Defense officials’ communications with then-President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Jan. 6, the day of the riot and the congressional certification of the 2020 election results. LINK
  • DOD and Department of Justice call logs from Jan. 6. LINK
  • DOD, DOJ, and U.S. Secret Service communications and directives from Jan. 6. LINK

More information on American Oversight’s investigation into the Jan. 6 attack and other threats to democracy is available here.

American Oversight is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit ethics watchdog that uses public records requests backed by litigation to expose official misconduct, threats to democracy, and abuses of power at all levels of government. Documents obtained by American Oversight have supported investigative work by journalists, congressional committees, and independent watchdogs, and have been featured in hundreds of news reports across the country. Follow us at @weareoversight and learn more at http://www.americanoversight.org.