Former President Trump's White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows questioned the results of the 2020 election just one day after it took place, texting Atty. Gen. Bill Barr on Nov. 4 about looking into a fraud allegation, according to records released by the Justice Department.
The communications show how quickly Meadows moved to find evidence of fraud after it was evident Trump would lose the election, an effort that the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection said in recent hearings was central to the former president's plan to stay in power.
The late-night exchange began with a text message from Meadows to Barr.
"I don't know how valid or who would be the best person to investigate but I thought you should be made aware of this. Tom Fitton tweeted it out and it is likely to get some attention," Meadows wrote Barr at 10:44 p.m. Fitton is president of Judicial Watch, a right-wing activist organization that has perpetuated unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.
The text was accompanied by a link to a tweet sent by far right provocateur James O'Keefe, which has since been deleted but can be found online, alleging that postal workers in Michigan were being ordered to backdate mail-in ballots so it would appear they arrived by election day.
Two minutes later, Barr replied: "Got it."
The messages, which were included in records related to the 2020 election released by the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act, appear to be the earliest documented instances in which Meadows brought allegations of election fraud to Barr, an effort that would continue for weeks as the president, his legal team and his supporters pushed conspiracy theories in an attempt to change the outcome of the election. Trump, Meadows and others also pressured the Justice Department to get directly involved in ongoing lawsuits over election results and to issue blanket statements that fraud had occurred.
Barr said repeatedly after the election, including in a Dec. 1 interview with the Associated Press, that he did not find any evidence of widespread fraud in the election and that most of the allegations levied by Trump and those in his circle were related to individual instances and not a larger systemic problem.
The House Jan. 6 committee held a hearing earlier this month focused on that pressure campaign. The bulk of their presentation, however, highlighted the increasing insistence by Trump in the final weeks of his presidency that the department get involved in pushing his unsubstantiated claims of fraud, going so far as to mull removing the acting attorney general in order to place a supporter in the role three days before Congress certified the election results on Jan. 6.
Barr told the committee in his deposition that Meadows would send him information and allegations that the president or others had drawn attention to, and he would send it to staff to determine whether it should be further scrutinized, according to a person familiar with Barr's testimony who asked to remain anonymous to speak candidly to The Times about the proceedings.
"[Meadows] really just sent them over as if he was getting them off his desk. He never pushed or hounded [the Justice Department] about doing" anything with the information, the person said Barr told the committee, noting that Barr saw it as perfectly normal communication from the White House chief of staff.
It is unclear if the texts to Barr are among the thousands of text messages Meadows selectively turned over to the House committee before he abruptly stopped cooperating with its investigation. The texts to Barr are not among those leaked to and published by various media outlets. CNN and the Washington Post have reviewed hundreds of Meadows' messages, including texts from conservative figures pushing him to have Trump fight the election results in court, and texts he received from lawmakers and conservative media personalities during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The Nov. 4 text from Meadows is the only one in which Barr replied to Meadows. The former attorney general immediately forwarded the link to his Chief of Staff Will Levi with a note, "Please get to right people."
Meadows did not return requests for comment.
The texts from Meadows continued, particularly after Barr made the unorthodox decision to issue a memo telling federal prosecutors that they were allowed to investigate "specific allegations" of voter fraud before the presidential election results were certified. The memo warned that "specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries."
The memo ran counter to the Justice Department's decades-old non-interference policy, which prohibited investigations into allegations of fraud or other overt investigative steps until after the certification of election results so as not to affect the outcome.
Meadows texted Barr again on Nov. 10, sending him a .pdf file labeled "Carone_Affidavit" that Barr would, in turn, forward to Levi with no instructions. In a separate message Meadows wrote, "Referenced FBI in affidavit."
The affidavit was from Mellissa Carone, a contract IT worker who made several claims about election fraud at a vote-counting center in Detroit, including allegations that she saw ballots illegally scanned multiple times and that vans meant to bring in meals for election workers were hiding tens of thousands of ballots. The document was included in a suit brought by the Trump campaign in Wayne County, Mich. A county judge later ruled on Nov. 13 that Carone's allegations "simply are not credible" and denied the campaign's request to block the county from certifying the results.
Despite the ruling, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani used Carone as his star witness at a Dec. 2, 2020, hearing about election fraud held by the Michigan House.
Meadows also texted Barr a link to a different O'Keefe tweet on Nov. 10, 2020, which has also been deleted but can be found online, with the message "the audio is troublesome." O'Keefe's tweet included purported audio snippets of an interview a Pennsylvania postal worker had with federal agents after he had alleged his superiors were instructing workers to backdate mail ballots. Though the worker had recanted his story that day, O'Keefe's tweet included a statement from the worker that he actually stood by his original claims.
The allegation is one of several the Department of Justice examined after the election, Barr has said.
The next afternoon, Meadows sent Barr a video file and a message stating "Dale Harrison in Colorado. May be manipulation but worth review." Harrison, a TikTok prankster, was seen in the video destroying a Trump ballot while dressed as a postal worker.
Barr also forwarded the video to Levi, along with Meadows' message. Levi responded quickly with a link to a Newsweek article in which Harrison admitted that he faked destroying a ballot to gain followers.
The final messages from Meadows to Barr included a Microsoft Word document detailing an effort by the Lincoln Project, a political action committee led by Republicans who opposed Trump, to get Pennsylvania attorneys working on election fraud legislation fired. Barr did not respond or forward the document.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.