Memo indicates Trump communications staff stayed quiet about own research debunking voter fraud claims
A group of pro-Trump lawyers held a press briefing two weeks after the 2020 election at the offices of the Republican Party in Washington, DC, during which they deployed an intricate conspiracy theory claiming that a manufacturer of voting machines had conspired with an election software company, financier George Soros, and Venezuela to steal the election from then-President Donald Trump.
But court documents released on Monday reveal that the Trump campaign had acknowledged in an internal memo that many of the bizarre theories about Dominion Voting Systems and software company Smartmatic were not based in fact, The New York Times report.
The legal filings were part of a motion last week in the defamation lawsuit brought by former Dominion employee Eric Coomer against the Trump campaign. The court documents include evidence that Trump campaign officials knew that the claims put out by lawyers allied with the Trump team were untrue.
The filing also indicates that the Trump campaign chose to not reveal its findings concerning the Dominion claims even as Sydney Powell and other attorneys on Mr Trump’s side blanketed conservative media outlets with false statements. They filed four lawsuits in federal court against Dominion, accusing the company of having rigged the election to thwart Mr Trump.
Zach Parkinson was at the time the campaign’s deputy director of communications. In emails included in the court documents, he reached out to lower-level staffers on 13 November, ten days after the election, requesting that they “substantiate or debunk” multiple claims about Dominion.
Mr Parkinson received a response the following day from staffers having collected information from news sources and fact-checking websites that showed that the claims that Ms Powell was already making in public were false.
The memo stated that Dominion didn’t use software from Smartmatic during the 2020 election, that the company had no connections to Venezuela or Mr Soros, and that there was no evidence to substantiate the claims that the company’s leadership had ties to leftwing Antifa activists.
“The memo produced by the Trump campaign shows that, at least internally, the Trump campaign found there was no evidence to support the conspiracy theories regarding Dominion” and Mr Coomer, his lawyers wrote in a motion in the defamation lawsuit.
Even as many dismissed the allegations made by Ms Powell and fellow pro-Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the claims gained traction in conservative media, leading some to still believe the claims almost a year later.
It remains unclear if Mr Trump himself read the memo or knew of its existence. But it indicates that his own communications staff stayed quiet even as they appear to have known that the claims people affiliated with the campaign were making were in fact false.
“The Trump campaign continued to allow its agents to advance debunked conspiracy theories and defame” Mr Coomer, the motion states, “apparently without providing them with their own research debunking those theories”.
Mr Coomer served as Dominion’s director of product strategy and security. He sued Ms Powell, Mr Giuliani, the Trump campaign, as well as others, in a Denver state district court last year. He said that after the 2020 election, he was accused by rightwing podcast host Joe Oltmann of hacking Dominion’s systems to make sure Mr Trump lost the election and then telling leftwing activists about the alleged actions.
Following the accusations by Mr Oltmann, they were repeated by Mr Giuliani and Ms Powell. On 19 November, the two lawyers said during a press conference at the offices of the Republican National Committee that Mr Coomer was at the centre of the plan to hack the voting systems. Ms Powell also claimed that the plan involved Smartmatic, Venezuelan officials, and individuals tied to Mr Soros as well as a “massive influence of communist money”.
Mr Trump still claims, without evidence, that the election was stolen from him, and Mr Giuliani and Ms Powell have reiterated that the election was fraudulent. In an August court filing, a lawyer representing Mr Giuliani said that some of his claims about the election were “substantially true”.
Ms Powell told an Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter less than a month ago that the 2020 election was “essentially a bloodless coup where they took over the presidency of the United States without a single shot being fired”.
The court documents show that during a deposition, Mr Giuliani said he hadn’t seen the memo before taking part in the press briefing, he also questioned the intentions of those who compiled the memo.
“They wanted Trump to lose because they could raise more money,” he said in the deposition, according to the court documents.
But Mr Giuliani also said that he and Ms Powell were “active supervisors” for the Trump campaign’s plan to challenge the results of the election.
The motion states that “the lines were blurred” concerning who Ms Powell was working for – it was unclear if she was working for herself, her nonprofit, or the Trump campaign. Mr Trump attempted to distance himself from Ms Powell after the press briefing, but in December he considered bringing her back on the team.
Last month, a federal judge in Detriot ruled that penalties be imposed on Ms Powell and eight other pro-Trump lawyers, not including Mr Giuliani, who filed a lawsuit in Michigan attempting to overturn the election results in the state by deploying the false claims about Dominion.
Judge Linda Parker wrote in her decision that “this case was never about fraud. It was about undermining the people’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so”.
Mr Giuliani’s New York law license was suspended in June for “demonstrably false and misleading statements,” during the 2020 election fight, a state court said.
The fresh court documents also show that former Trump campaign officials still think the election was nefarious.
“Yes, sir,” Trump campaign representative Sean Dollman said when asked if he thought the election was fraudulent by lawyers representing Mr Coomer.
“What is that opinion based on?” the lawyers asked, prompting an uncertain answer from Mr Dollman.
“We have no underlying definite facts that it wasn’t,” he said.