Two weeks after the 2020 election, a team of lawyers closely allied with Donald J. Trump held a widely watched news conference at the Republican Party’s headquarters in Washington. At the event, they laid out a bizarre conspiracy theory claiming that a voting machine company had worked with an election software firm, the financier George Soros and Venezuela to steal the presidential contest from Mr. Trump.
But there was a problem for the Trump team, according to court documents released on Monday evening.
By the time the news conference occurred on Nov. 19, Mr. Trump’s campaign had already prepared an internal memo on many of the outlandish claims about the company, Dominion Voting Systems, and the separate software company, Smartmatic. The memo had determined that those allegations were untrue.
The court papers, which were initially filed late last week as a motion in a defamation lawsuit brought against the campaign and others by a former Dominion employee, Eric Coomer, contain evidence that officials in the Trump campaign were aware early on that many of the claims against the companies were baseless.
The documents also suggest that the campaign sat on its findings about Dominion even as Sidney Powell and other lawyers attacked the company in the conservative media and ultimately filed four federal lawsuits accusing it of a vast conspiracy to rig the election against Mr. Trump.
According to emails contained in the documents, Zach Parkinson, then the campaign’s deputy director of communications, reached out to subordinates on Nov. 13 asking them to “substantiate or debunk” several matters concerning Dominion. The next day, the emails show, Mr. Parkinson received a copy of a memo cobbled together by his staff from what largely appear to be news articles and public fact-checking services.
Even though the memo was hastily assembled, it rebutted a series of allegations that Ms. Powell and others were making in public. It found:
That Dominion did not use voting technology from the software company, Smartmatic, in the 2020 election.
That Dominion had no direct ties to Venezuela or to Mr. Soros.
And that there was no evidence that Dominion’s leadership had connections to left-wing “antifa” activists, as Ms. Powell and others had claimed.
As Mr. Coomer’s lawyers wrote in their motion in the defamation suit, “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.
Even at the time, many political observers and voters, Democratic and Republican alike, dismissed the efforts by Ms. Powell and other pro-Trump lawyers like Rudolph W. Giuliani as a wild, last-ditch attempt to appease a defeated president in denial of his loss. But the false theories they spread quickly gained currency in the conservative media and endure nearly a year later.
It is unclear if Mr. Trump knew about or saw the memo; still, the documents suggest that his campaign’s communications staff remained silent about what it knew of the claims against Dominion at a moment when the allegations were circulating freely.
“The Trump campaign continued to allow its agents,” the motion says, “to advance debunked conspiracy theories and defame” Mr. Coomer, “apparently without providing them with their own research debunking those theories.”
Mr. Coomer, Dominion’s onetime director of product strategy and security, sued Ms. Powell, Mr. Giuliani, the Trump campaign and others last year in state district court in Denver. He has said that after the election, he was wrongly accused by a right-wing podcast host of hacking his company’s systems to ensure Mr. Trump’s defeat and of then telling left-wing activists that he had done so.
Soon after the host, Joe Oltmann, made these accusations, they were seized upon and amplified by Ms. Powell and Mr. Giuliani, who were part of a self-described “elite strike force” of lawyers leading the charge in challenging Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.
On Nov. 19, for example, Ms. Powell and Mr. Giuliani appeared together at the news conference at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters and placed Mr. Coomer at the center of a plot to hijack the election by hacking Dominion’s voting machines. By Ms. Powell’s account that day, the conspiracy included Smartmatic, Venezuelan officials, people connected to Mr. Soros and a “massive influence of communist money.”
Ms. Powell and Mr. Giuliani did not respond to messages seeking comment on the documents. Representatives for Mr. Trump also did not respond to emails seeking comment.
Mr. Trump continues to falsely argue that the election was stolen from him, and in recent months Ms. Powell and Mr. Giuliani have stuck by their claims that the election was rife with fraud. A lawyer for Mr. Giuliani said in a court filing last month that at least some of his claims of election fraud were “substantially true.”
And as recently as three weeks ago, Ms. Powell told a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation 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.”
It remains unclear how widely the memo was circulated among Trump campaign staff members. According to the court documents, Mr. Giuliani said in a deposition that he had not seen the memo before he gave his presentation in Washington, and he questioned the motives of those who had prepared it.
Trump’s Bid to Subvert the Election
A monthslong campaign. During his last days in office, President Donald J. Trump and his allies undertook an increasingly urgent effort to undermine the election results. That wide-ranging campaign included perpetuating false and thoroughly debunked claims of election fraud as well as pressing government officials for help.
Baseless claims of voter fraud. Although Mr. Trump’s allegations of a stolen election have died in the courts and election officials of both parties from every state have said there is no evidence of fraud, Republicans across the country continued to spread conspiracy theories. Those include 147 House Republicans who voted against certifying the election.
Intervention at the Justice Department. Rebuffed by ranking Republicans and cabinet officials like Attorney General William P. Barr, who stepped down weeks before his tenure was to end, Mr. Trump sought other avenues to peddle his unfounded claims. In a bid to advance his personal agenda, Mr. Trump plotted to oust the acting attorney general and pressed top officials to declare that the election was corrupt. His chief of staff pushed the department to investigate an array of outlandish and unfounded conspiracy theories that held that Mr. Trump had been the victor.
Pressuring state officials to 'find votes.' As the president continued to refuse to concede the election, his most loyal backers proclaimed Jan. 6, when Congress convened to formalize Mr. Biden’s electoral victory, as a day of reckoning. On that day, Mr. Trump delivered an incendiary speech to thousands of his supporters hours before a mob of loyalists violently stormed the Capitol.
“They wanted Trump to lose because they could raise more money,” Mr. Giuliani was quoted as saying in the deposition.
But at the time that the internal report was prepared, Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell were both “active supervisors,” as he put it in his deposition, in the Trump campaign’s broader plan to challenge the election results — an effort that eventually included more than 60 failed lawsuits filed across the country. While Ms. Powell soon went her own way in claiming that Dominion had conspired to steal the election, Mr. Giuliani continued working closely with Mr. Trump and his campaign, ultimately changing strategies and seeking to persuade state legislatures to overturn the popular vote.
The motion notes that “the lines were blurred” as to whom Ms. Powell was working for at the time: herself, her nonprofit organization or the Trump campaign. Almost immediately after she promoted the conspiracy theory about Dominion at the news conference in November, Mr. Trump sought to distance himself from her. But by December, as Mr. Trump’s legal options narrowed, the former president considered bringing her back into the fold and discussed whether to appoint her as a special counsel overseeing an investigation of voter fraud.
The release of the documents was only the latest legal trouble for Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell, both of whom have been sued directly by Dominion for defamation. Dominion has also brought a defamation suit against Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow, for amplifying false election claims. Last month, a federal judge in Washington ruled that the cases could continue moving toward trial.
About the same time, a federal judge in Detroit ordered penalties to be levied against Ms. Powell and eight other pro-Trump lawyers — Mr. Giuliani was not among them — who filed a lawsuit that sought to overturn the election results in Michigan using the false claims about Dominion.
“This case was never about fraud,” the judge, Linda V. Parker, wrote in her decision. “It was about undermining the people’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.”
In June, a New York court suspended Mr. Giuliani’s law license, ruling that he had made “demonstrably false and misleading statements” while fighting the results of last year’s election for Mr. Trump.
Even recently, the new court documents say, former Trump campaign officials have continued to cling to the baseless notion that the election was marred by fraud.
When lawyers for Mr. Coomer asked Sean Dollman, a representative of the Trump campaign, in a deposition if the campaign still believed that the election was fraudulent, he answered, “Yes, sir.”
The lawyers then asked, “What is that opinion based on?”
According to the court documents, Mr. Dollman gave a less than certain answer.
“We have no underlying definite facts that it wasn’t,” he said.
Susan Dominus, Shay Castle and Mindy Sink contributed reporting.
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