When former President Donald Trump was pushing the Big Lie and making false claims of widespread voter fraud following the 2020 election, outgoing White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was more than happy to encourage him. And according to reporting by the New York Times' Katie Benner, Meadows wanted the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate outlandish election conspiracy theories — including the ludicrous "Italygate."
Benner describes Italygate as "a fantastical theory that people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden, Jr." Italy, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a long-time U.S. ally.
"In Donald J. Trump's final weeks in office, Mark Meadows, his chief of staff, repeatedly pushed the Justice Department to investigate unfounded conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, according to newly uncovered e-mails provided to Congress — portions of which were reviewed by the New York Times," Benner reports. "In five e-mails sent during the last week of December and early January, Mr. Meadows asked Jeffrey A. Rosen, then the acting attorney general, to examine debunked claims of election fraud in New Mexico and an array of baseless conspiracies that held that Mr. Trump had been the actual victor."
According to Benner, "Mr. Meadows' outreach to Mr. Rosen was audacious in part because it violated longstanding guidelines that essentially forbid almost all White House personnel, including the chief of staff, from contacting the Justice Department about investigations or other enforcement actions."
The fact that Rosen was acting U.S. attorney general at that point is important. As much of a Trump loyalist as former Attorney General William Barr was, even Barr refused to go along with Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud — and Barr said that there was no evidence to suggest that now-President Joe Biden didn't win the 2020 election fair and square. Barr left his position as attorney general in December 2020, and Rosen was appointed acting U.S. attorney general.
But Rosen, according to Benner, didn't want to use the FBI to promote conspiracy theories.
Benner explains, "An e-mail to another Justice Department official indicated that Mr. Rosen had refused to broker a meeting between the FBI and a man who had posted videos online promoting the Italy conspiracy theory, known as Italygate. But the communications between Mr. Meadows and Mr. Rosen, which have not previously been reported, show the increasingly urgent efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies during his last days in office to find some way to undermine, or even nullify, the election results while he still had control of the government."
When Barr stepped down as U.S. attorney general, it was obvious that he wanted nothing to do with Trump's bogus voter fraud claims. But Meadows went out of his way to promote them.
"The newly unearthed messages show how Mr. Meadows' private efforts veered into the realm of the outlandish, and sought official validation for misinformation that was circulating rampantly among Mr. Trump's supporters," Benner notes. "Italygate was among several unfounded conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 elections that caught fire on the internet before the January 6 assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. Those theories fueled the belief among many of the rioters, stoked by Mr. Trump, that the election had been stolen from him and have prompted several Republican-led states to pass or propose new barriers to voting."