An Army lawyer who disputed his service’s official account of the Pentagon’s response to the U.S. Capitol assault on Jan. 6, 2021, claims he is the subject of professional reprisal for telling Congress that superior officers had lied to lawmakers investigating both the riot and the Trump administration’s reaction to the violence.
Earl G. Matthews, a colonel in the Army Reserve, said in an interview Wednesday that despite being identified as among the best qualified in a group of officers up for promotion to become a one-star general, he was denied advancement by military officials who were unhappy with his memorandum to lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the bipartisan House select committee that, after months of inquiry, concluded former president Donald Trump was to blame for his supporters’ “carnage” that day.
Matthews’s allegation, outlined in a complaint he made several weeks ago to the Defense Department Office of Inspector General, marks the latest salvo in an unresolved dispute between the Department of the Army and the D.C. National Guard, whose leaders at the time of the Capitol attack have complained publicly that senior officials at the Pentagon failed to act with urgency as the crisis unfolded.
In his December 2021 memorandum, Matthews criticized two senior Army officers, Gen. Charles Flynn and Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, for not acting more quickly during the riot. He described them as “absolute liars” for how they characterized the day to lawmakers. Flynn is the brother of Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general who, after Trump’s election loss to Joe Biden, was among those who advocated using the military to seize voting machines and rerun the 2020 election, the committee found.
Matthews acknowledged Wednesday in an interview that he used “inflammatory language” in his memorandum, which leaked to the media amid lawmakers’ investigation. But the document, his lawyers said in the complaint made to the inspector general, was a protected communication to Congress, meaning that, under the law, Army officials are barred from acts of reprisal against him.
That Matthews was recommended for promotion “displeased several senior officers within the Pentagon and the Office of the Chief of the Army Reserve,” said the complaint, filed by attorneys Mark Zaid and Andrew P. Bakaj. It portrays Matthews as a whistleblower, saying that an investigation by the inspector general would show that the Army violated federal law in how it has treated him, and calls for Matthews to be promoted and others to be held accountable for their actions.
An Army spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith, said Wednesday that the service could not comment on a pending case.
The reprisal allegation was first reported by the New York Times.
National Guard leaders have expressed exasperation with how slowly they believed Flynn and Piatt were willing to recommend that military personnel be dispatched to aid local police, who had been overrun by protesters who swarmed the Capitol. Army officials have said that a plan needed to be developed before U.S. troops could be used in such a volatile situation.
Matthews served during the riot as the senior legal counsel to the commander of the D.C. National Guard, Maj. Gen. William Walker. In previous testimony to Congress, Walker has said that restrictions placed upon him by Ryan McCarthy, then the Army secretary, and Christopher Miller, then the acting defense secretary, prevented him from sending forces to assist.
Walker and other officials on a phone call between the D.C. National Guard and senior officials at the Pentagon later said that Flynn and Piatt seemed concerned about the appearance of using U.S. troops to restore order after a political protest turned violent. Piatt initially denied in a statement to the media saying anything like that, but he later acknowledged to reporters that “note-takers in the room” during the call recorded that he “may have” done so.
Matthews sent his memorandum to Congress after the Defense Department inspector general found in November 2021 that Walker received a call from McCarthy at 4:35 p.m. approving him to send troops to the Capitol, but did not do so until he was directed a second time, about 5:08 p.m., more than three hours after the Capitol was breached. Walker responded angrily, demanding a retraction of the inspector general’s report and saying that no one directed him to deploy troops until after 5 p.m.
Matthews, speaking on Wednesday, noted that a senior Pentagon official, Robert Salesses, who in 2021 testified to Congress alongside Walker, said that while Trump’s acting defense secretary authorized the use of the National Guard at 4:32 p.m., Walker was not directed to do so by Pentagon officials until 5:08 p.m.
The dispute has never been reconciled.
Matthews said that while he may not ever become a general, he still wants the 2021 inspector general report and an earlier Army report, from which that document appears to have drawn information, to be retracted. Both reports, he said, are riddled with inconsistencies and “smear” Walker, his former boss.
Senior Pentagon officials in both the Trump and Biden administrations have stood by Flynn and Piatt, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth recommending in 2022 that Piatt be promoted to four-star general. The Biden White House, however, declined to take action on the nomination, effectively blocking it.
Piatt is expected to retire this year. Flynn is the commander of all Army forces in the Pacific.