A former top lawyer for the D.C. National Guard has accused Army officials of retaliating against him for asserting to Congress that two top Army officers lied about why deployment of the Guard was delayed during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, according to a complaint filed with the Defense Department and obtained by The New York Times.
Col. Earl Matthews, who previously served in the Trump administration and was the top lawyer for the D.C. Guard during the Jan. 6 assault, said in the complaint that he was retaliated against after he accused two generals in a report to Congress of making false statements about the delayed deployment, an issue that has produced multiple and often conflicting accounts.
“It’s textbook whistle-blower retaliation. I wrote that memo because I saw real wrongdoing,” Colonel Matthews said in his first interview since the incident. “I love the United States Army. To me, this is about Army values.”
A copy of the 37-page whistle-blower reprisal complaint was filed with the Pentagon’s inspector general in October, two months before the third anniversary of the attack on Congress by a pro-Trump mob seeking to halt certification of President Biden’s 2020 election victory.
It underscores how many questions remain about aspects of the government and law enforcement response to the deadly attack on the Capitol.
At the center of this particular dispute is a still-simmering feud inside the military over who is to blame for the more than four-hour delay in deploying the National Guard as the rioters battled their way into the Capitol, assaulting dozens of police officers along the way and endangering members of Congress, their staffs and others working in the building.
Colonel Matthews, who was involved in key meetings about the Guard deployment, said he initially gave his account of what happened to Congress in 2021 after he saw top Army officials try to downplay their role in the delay.
In particular, Colonel Matthews said he was infuriated by a report he said was overseen by Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt of the Army that he described as a “misleading, factually flawed and revisionist recitation of events” that he viewed as shifting the blame for the delay onto D.C. National Guard leadership. He was also angered by what he viewed as a faulty report from the Defense Department’s inspector general that relied on some of the same material.
Colonel Matthews drafted a 36-page memo that he submitted to the House Jan. 6 committee, accusing General Piatt and Gen. Charles Flynn of being “absolute and unmitigated liars” in their testimony before Congress.
In fall of 2022, the Biden White House denied General Piatt a promotion after Colonel Matthews raised concerns about his testimony.
Not long after, Colonel Matthews said, he faced retaliation.
In February 2023, Colonel Matthews, who at that point was assigned to the Army War College as part of the Army Reserve, said he was falsely accused of unprofessional behavior. He said he was also listed as a person of concern who might try to disrupt a military conference in Virginia being attended by General Piatt and was escorted out of a hotel hosting the seminar by security personnel.
Colonel Matthews said he was also denied consideration for promotion, despite having been selected by a promotion board for brigadier general.
In the interview, Colonel Matthews said he did not believe General Piatt ordered or knew about the retaliation and blamed lower-ranking officials at the Army War College. One of those officials acknowledged that Colonel Matthews’s “widely publicized attacks on Army senior leaders in relation to the Jan. 6 insurrection” factored into his belief that Colonel Matthews should be removed from his position, according to the complaint.
The complaint was filed with the Pentagon’s inspector general by the lawyers Andrew Bakaj and Mark Zaid through the organization Whistleblower Aid. It said that in addition to costing Colonel Matthews money in the form of forgone salary and pension, the alleged retaliation imposed “grievous reputational harm, significant personal embarrassment and public humiliation.”
Colonel Matthews is asking that the inspector general recommend he be slated for assignment to brigadier general and that those who retaliated against him be reprimanded and punished.
He also wants any false or misleading testimony about the National Guard delay to be corrected in the congressional record.
As the riot unfolded on Jan. 6, General Flynn, who commanded the U.S. Army Pacific, and General Piatt, the director of the Army staff, were involved in a phone call with police leaders in which Army officials worried aloud about the “optics” of sending in the Guard, according to congressional testimony by the commander of the D.C. National Guard.
General Flynn is the brother of Michael T. Flynn, a former Army general who was President Donald J. Trump’s first, short-lived national security adviser. Michael Flynn later took an active role in trying to overturn the 2020 election and urged Mr. Trump to use the apparatus of government to seize voting machines.
Charles Flynn told Congress he had not participated in the call but merely overheard portions of it when he entered the room. He said he had not heard any discussion of political considerations with regard to sending in the Guard.
“I did not use the word ‘optics,’ nor did I hear the word used during the call on Jan. 6, 2021,” he said.
But Colonel Matthews called those comments by General Flynn “outright perjury” and said he “unmistakably heard him say that optics of a National Guard presence on Capitol Hill was an issue for him.”
Colonel Matthews listed a series of other discrepancies with the testimony by General Piatt and General Flynn.
Colonel Matthews pointed out that General Flynn gave contradictory testimony in different venues. That included claiming to the House Oversight Committee that a team under his direction “immediately worked” to begin to deploy the Guard to the Capitol, even though he later told the Jan. 6 Committee such actions were not in his purview.
An Army spokesman has defended the men, calling them “open, honest and thorough in their sworn testimony with Congress and D.O.D. investigators” and saying the military stands by “all testimony and facts provided to date.”
The Pentagon’s inspector general declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Army said she could not comment on a pending matter.
In the interview, Colonel Matthews also faulted the now-defunct House Jan. 6 committee for not holding a hearing on security failures during its 2022 inquiry because of a decision to focus on the actions of Mr. Trump.
“They were focused on the president, and I understand that,” he said, “but the security failures need to be looked at because we don’t want that to happen again. And I don’t think that was done.”
Colonel Matthews’s experience on Jan. 6 is largely consistent with the accounts of other District of Columbia and law enforcement officials involved in the response that day, including one provided by the former Capitol Police chief, Steven A. Sund, who said the Pentagon was more concerned about “optics” than quickly deploying the National Guard.
“I got on a call with the Pentagon and pleaded for the National Guard,” he said in an interview about his book, “Courage Under Fire.” “There was delay after delay after delay.”