American Oversight Sues Defense Department for Top Officials’ Calendars and Communications, Including Related to Jan. 6 Attack

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.

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.

“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,” said American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers. “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.”

Today’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, and Senior Adviser Douglas Macgregor.

The records requested include decision memos, calendars, and communications following the firing of Esper, as well as communications containing key terms related to the insurrection and the certification of the 2020 election results. 

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:

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

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