Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ new cooperation with the January 6 House select committee could give investigators a valuable window into how former President Donald Trump and his allies tried to enlist government officials to pursue baseless election conspiracy theories — an effort new CNN reporting reveals Meadows was central to in the weeks after the 2020 election.
According to multiple sources, including former Trump officials and others with direct knowledge of what was happening behind the scenes at the White House, Meadows reached out to some of the country’s top national security officials in an effort to connect them to Trump allies who were pushing unfounded claims of foreign election interference and voter fraud.
Not only did Meadows try to get top government officials to investigate baseless conspiracy theories being espoused by the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Mike Flynn and Sidney Powell, he also passed along conspiratorial materials himself, including YouTube videos and other information that alleged widespread evidence of voter fraud, sources say.
These, and other actions Meadows took on behalf of Trump, sources say, were not necessarily driven by his strong belief in the validity of these claims but instead by his desire to please a president who was hyper-focused on injecting baseless conspiracy theories of election fraud into official government channels.
While Meadows’ attempts to enlist the Justice Department in the effort to overturn the election were documented by a recent Senate investigation, a complete understanding of how Trump’s chief of staff pushed other federal agencies to pursue dubious claims of a rigged election is still coming to light.
At one point, Meadows contacted national security officials at several agencies with what he said was potential evidence of a massive conspiracy by China to hack the US election by using thermostats to change results in voting machines, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the situation. According to one of those sources, Meadows reached out to officials at the FBI, Pentagon, National Security Council and Office of the Director of National Intelligence to tell them about election fraud claims, including the China thermostat allegation, which Flynn and Powell had been pushing.
Meadows also pressured acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to have Justice Department officials investigate baseless claims that votes were changed by people in Italy using satellites. He acted as a go-between for Giuliani’s team which was pushing the same debunked theory.
A number of Trump allies tried to enlist top government officials at the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense to investigate dubious claims about the election but Meadows’ role in some of those efforts stands out for his proximity to Trump and his standing in the executive branch.
“Meadows was perpetually enabling this insane stuff and was too scared to stand up to Trump,” according to a source who attended multiple meetings at the White House and other agencies where Meadows was present. “He was scared to say ‘no’ to anyone,” the source, who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss matters potentially relevant to an ongoing congressional probe, said, noting that applied particularly to Trump.
Meadows’ attorney did not respond to CNN’s request for comment for this story. Next week, Meadows is expected to appear for a deposition with the House select committee investigating the January 6 US Capitol attack.
Trump’s election fraud liaison
Even after mid-November, when a group that included Trump-appointed election security officials validated the results of the 2020 election, declaring it to be “the most secure in American history,” Meadows continued to show a willingness to pursue avenues to undermine that confidence on behalf of his boss, according to four sources with knowledge of his actions at the time.
Flynn and Powell initially relied on Meadows to act as the liaison between those seeking to overturn the 2020 election and top officials across various agencies that they thought might be able to help in the effort, the sources said.
Meadows would pass election fraud information from these outside Trump advisers to government officials and essentially say he was doing so because Trump wanted him to, according to one source familiar with the former chief of staff’s outreach.
During one encounter described to CNN by a source with knowledge of it, Meadows attempted to set up a meeting between Flynn and top intelligence officials to discuss the claim China had hacked voting machines via special kinds of thermostats. While that meeting never occurred, according to the same source, the outreach highlights how Meadows was personally involved in the effort.
Some Trump officials contacted by Meadows were wary of getting involved in efforts to overturn the election, according to three sources with knowledge of their thinking at the time, and side-stepped his request for Cabinet officials to meet with Powell, Flynn, Giuliani and others aligned with their cause.
Heated Oval Office meeting
At times, Meadows did try to thwart efforts to push baseless claims of voter fraud. During one particularly contentious Oval Office meeting on December 18, Meadows directly challenged Powell and Flynn, who were continuing to insist they had real evidence of election interference.
He forcefully argued against their suggestion of naming Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud allegations. Meadows also sided with White House officials and lawyers opposed to Powell and Flynn’s idea of declaring a state of emergency so that the federal government could seize voting equipment in certain states, as CNN previously reported.
Trump ultimately sided with Meadows and other White House officials but did not completely reject what Flynn and Powell were proposing, sources previously told CNN. Powell’s attorney told CNN that she has not spoken to Meadows since that meeting, which was first reported by the New York Times.
Afterward, Meadows, along with Giuliani and others, continued to pursue baseless claims of election fraud, including pressuring top Justice department officials to investigate some of them, according to sources familiar with the situation and congressional investigations into the matter.
During the final week of December and first days of January, Meadows repeatedly emailed then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, urging him to investigate the Italian satellite conspiracy theory, referred to as “Italygate” in emails uncovered by the Senate investigation, whose findings were released in October.
Rosen and other DOJ officials were exasperated by the requests, according to the Senate investigation
Meadows in Georgia
Meadows also shifted some of his efforts toward Georgia, where Trump was working to overturn the results of Biden’s victory.
On Dec. 22, 2020, Meadows paid an unexpected visit to a Cobb County facility where investigators were running a signature match audit of absentee ballot envelopes. Georgia’s Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs intercepted Meadows, explaining he wasn’t allowed in the audit room.
“Fun fact: technically the chiefs of staff, me and Mark Meadows are not allowed into the room,” Fuchs told Atlanta’s WSB-TV at the time. “He just asked basic process questions, wanted to know what exactly we were verifying, are we checking signatures from multiple different files that we have and that is accurate.”
As Trump grew increasingly irritated that Georgia officials were failing to upend the election results, the White House reached out repeatedly to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office.
At one point Meadows even texted Raffensperger from a Gmail account — a message that was largely disregarded, a person familiar with the situation said. At the time, staffers were unsure if the message was real as they were getting inundated with calls and emails from people angry about the election results. They also weren’t eager to connect with the White House while Trump’s lawsuit to overturn the election results was pending, the person familiar with the situation added.
Criminal investigators in Georgia have been quietly conducting interviews, collecting documents and working to build a line of communication with congressional investigators as they aim to build a case against Trump for his alleged attempts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.
The select committee investigating January 6 has already asked the National Archives for a range of documents, including any records of White House communications with Georgia officials. The document request covers communications with Meadows, Giuliani and other attorneys who participated in Trump’s now notorious call to Raffensperger.
When Meadows finally did connect with Fuchs, he said the White House had been trying — repeatedly — to reach Raffensperger. Fuchs passed the message to her boss.
“I told Jordan that I was reluctant to take the president’s call with the lawsuit hanging over us,” Raffensperger wrote in his book, Integrity Counts. “She said Meadows was insistent, so I agreed,” with the stipulation that Fuchs and his general counsel would also join.
When everyone gathered on the line January 2, Meadows kicked off the now infamous call.
“Ok. Alright. Mr. President, everyone is on the line. This is Mark Meadows, the chief of staff.”
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