Before Jan. 6, Mark Meadows joked about Trump’s election claims

Mark Meadows joked about the baseless claim that large numbers of votes were fraudulently cast in the names of dead people in the days before the then-White House chief of staff participated in a phone call in which then-President Trump alleged there were close to 5,000 dead voters in Georgia and urged Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the 2020 election there.

In a text message that has been scrutinized by federal prosecutors, Meadows wrote to a White House lawyer that his son, Atlanta-area attorney Blake Meadows, had been probing possible fraud and had found only a handful of possible votes cast in dead voters’ names, far short of what Trump was alleging. The lawyer teasingly responded that perhaps Meadows’s son could locate the thousands of votes Trump would need to win the election. The text was described by multiple people familiar with the exchange.

The jocular text message, which has not been previously reported, is one of many exchanges from the time in which Trump aides and other Republican officials expressed deep skepticism or even openly mocked the election claims being made publicly by Trump, according to people familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the criminal investigation.

Special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading a Justice Department investigation of Trump’s activities in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, has focused on exploring whether Trump and his closest advisers understood that claims of fraud in the election were baseless, even as they pressed state officials and others to overturn Biden’s victory and convinced Trump’s millions of supporters that the election had been stolen, people familiar with the probe have said.

The text message is a small part of a broader portrait of Meadows that Smith appears to be assembling as he weighs the actions of not just Trump but a number of his closest advisers, including Meadows.

People close to Meadows have said that he was privately sympathetic to those Trump advisers who were skeptical of the fraud claims. Yet Meadows also played both sides, often appearing to indulge Trump’s desire to use those false allegations to try to remain in office, people who witnessed his behavior have said.

A spokesman for Meadows declined to comment. Blake Meadows did not respond to a request for comment.

Since Trump said he was named a target of Smith’s investigation earlier this week, his allies have been feverishly speculating about the degree of Meadows’s cooperation with the Smith probe and whether he has provided testimony that Smith will use to build a case against Trump or others.

The Meadows text, which a person familiar with the investigation said prosecutors have presented to a grand jury, is a reminder that Smith has gathered documents and witness testimony that has not been seen by the public despite more than two years of congressional and media scrutiny about Trump’s activities following the election. He will probably offer the public the fullest picture yet available of the events that led to the Jan. 6 attack.

A spokesman for Smith declined to comment.

Days after Meadows sent the text, he organized the Raffensperger call on Jan. 3, in which Trump pressed to “find” the votes in the state necessary to overturn Biden’s win.

A recording of the call shows that Meadows did not interject or challenge Trump’s claims about votes cast in the name of dead people. Instead, when Raffensperger countered that state investigators had found just two such votes, he responded: “That may be what your investigation shows, but I can promise you there are more than that.”

Meadows expended particular energy after the 2020 vote on Georgia, a traditionally Republican-leaning state that Biden won by nearly 12,000 votes, former White House officials and campaign aides said. Meadows lobbied other officials in the state about the election results and even visited a ballot counting center in Georgia, The Washington Post has reported.

In the weeks after the election, Trump advisers said they received claims that came from Meadows that the election was fraudulent, but when they checked the claims with outside experts paid by the Trump campaign, they could not substantiate them, according to people familiar with the requests.

Meadows, a former member of Congress who became Trump’s chief of staff in early 2020, was viewed inside the White House and the campaign as one of the biggest propagators of such claims — though at times he also entertained concerns from other Trump advisers who wanted the president to accept his election loss.

It is not clear how extensively Blake Meadows looked for instances of fraud in Georgia or what his father concluded about his findings.

Blake Meadows interned for a North Carolina Supreme Court justice and worked for his father’s campaign for Congress and a Republican political group called the Alliance Defending Freedom, according to his LinkedIn profile. He is now managing partner of his own firm in Tyrone, Ga.

Witnesses have been asked detailed questions about why Meadows appeared so deeply interested the Georgia election results and about his various phone calls with Georgia officials and other activities in the state, three people familiar with testimony said.

The Justice Department obtained hundreds of Meadows texts in the summer of 2022, which were then shared with Smith’s team after the special counsel was appointed in November, according to two other people familiar with the probe. Meadows subsequently turned over additional documents to Smith’s office in response to a subpoena, according to people familiar with his activities.

Witnesses who have appeared in front of a Washington grand jury investigating Jan. 6 say prosecutors appear to have an extensive collection of Meadows text messages and emails, with one witness describing being shown a “grid” displaying the communications.

This spring, Meadows testified to the grand jury about his interactions with Trump and others involved with Trump’s election effort, two people with knowledge of the appearance said.

After leaving the White House, Meadows joined the Conservative Partnership Institute, where he has helped the group raise money and amass real estate for a larger office complex on Capitol Hill. He has kept in touch with some of his aides from the White House.

People in Trump’s orbit have grown increasingly concerned about what they see as Meadows’s retreat from the public scene as a prominent defender of the former president. He has reduced his public appearances, particularly on television — where he was once a frequent guest. He has not posted on Twitter in five months.

Trump has repeatedly complained to others about Meadows and questioned his loyalty, according to three Trump advisers. A spokesman for Trump declined to comment about Meadows.

Trump’s relationship with his former chief of staff soured after Meadows published a book about his time in the White House last year that generally praised Trump but also included details about how sick Trump became when he contracted covid-19 in October 2020, a description of personal vulnerability that has angered Trump. That included insider information about Trump’s three-day stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center recovering from the virus, where Meadows joined him.

Research for the book, “The Chief’s Chief,” also appeared to help a separate Smith investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving office. Investigators obtained audio of Trump talking about what he said was a classified document with ghostwriters for Meadows, as papers rustle.

A person close to Meadows said he knows his relationship with Trump is permanently ruptured and has told others he does not seek to antagonize Trump and his supporters but concluded he had to cooperate with Smith’s office as required by law.

— Perry Stein contributed to this report.

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