By Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart, CNN
CNN has obtained 2,319 text messages that former President Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows sent and received between Election Day 2020 and President Joe Biden’s January 20, 2021 inauguration.
The vast trove of texts offers the most revealing picture to date of how Trump’s inner circle, supporters and Republican lawmakers worked behind the scenes to try to overturn the election results and then reacted to the violence that effort unleashed at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The logs, which Meadows selectively provided to the House committee investigating the January 6 attack, show how the former chief of staff was at the nexus of sprawling conspiracy theories baselessly claiming the election had been stolen. They also demonstrate how he played a key role in the attempts to stop Biden’s certification on January 6.
The never-before-seen texts include messages from Trump’s family — daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and son Donald Trump Jr. — as well as White House and campaign officials, Cabinet members, Republican Party leaders, January 6 rally organizers, Rudy Giuliani, My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, Sean Hannity and other Fox hosts. There are also text exchanges with more than 40 current and former Republican members of Congress, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
The texts include everything from plans to fight the election results to surprising and unexpected reactions on January 6 from some of Trump’s staunchest allies. At 2:28 p.m., Greene, the conservative firebrand who had helped to plan the congressional objections that day, texted Meadows with an urgent plea for help as the violence was unfolding at the Capitol.
“Mark I was just told there is an active shooter on the first floor of the Capitol Please tell the President to calm people This isn’t the way to solve anything,” Greene wrote. Meadows does not appear to reply.
More messages flooded in.
“Mark: he needs to stop this, now. Can I do anything to help?” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s former acting White House chief of staff, texted Meadows.
“It’s really bad up here on the hill. They have breached the Capitol,” Georgia Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk wrote.
“The president needs to stop this ASAP,” texted GOP Rep. William Timmons of South Carolina.
“POTUS is engaging,” Meadows sent in response to Loudermilk. “We are doing it,” he texted to Timmons.
“Thanks. This doesn’t help our cause,” Loudermilk replied.
Shortly after, Donald Trump Jr. weighed in: “This his(sic) one you go to the mattresses on. They will try to fuck his entire legacy on this if it gets worse.”
“TELL THEM TO GO HOME !!!” texted Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
Heated rhetoric and conspiracy theories
The text messages CNN obtained begin on Election Day, November 3, 2020. Even before the election was called, Meadows was inundated with conspiracy theories about election fraud, strategies to challenge the results and pleas for Trump to keep fighting. The messages — from GOP activists, donors, Republican members of Congress and state party officials — appear to act as an echo chamber affirming Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen. For months leading up to Election Day, Trump had claimed the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged.
Previously disclosed text messages showed that former Trump administration Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., each texted Meadows on November 4 and 5 with ideas for overturning the election.
On November 7, hours before the election was called, Perry texted Meadows again: “We have the data driven program that can clearly show where the fraud was committed. This is the silver bullet.”
While Perry has previously denied CNN reporting about his text messages to Meadows, CNN has confirmed it’s his cell phone and he signed this text, “Rick Perry,” including his number.
Other texts, however, include hints of doubt expressed by members of Trump’s team and even Meadows himself about the veracity of conspiracy theories being spread by Trump’s “kraken” team — outside attorneys working for Trump that included Giuliani and Sidney Powell.
Some key congressional allies who worked with Trump’s campaign initially in its efforts to overturn the election, such as Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, ultimately soured on the approach as the January 6 congressional certification neared, CNN previously reported.
The texts also show how Trump allies were quick to deflect responsibility for the January 6 attack. Shortly after pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol, one of his top aides began crafting a counter-narrative.
At 3:45 p.m., Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller suggested to Meadows and Trump aide Dan Scavino that Trump should tweet: “Call me crazy, but ideas for two tweets from POTUS: 1) Bad apples, likely ANTIFA or other crazed leftists, infiltrated today s peaceful protest over the fraudulent vote count. Violence is never acceptable! MAGA supporters embrace our police and the rule of law and should leave the Capitol now! 2) The fake news media who encouraged this summer s violent and radical riots are now trying to blame peaceful and innocent MAGA supporters for violent actions. This isn’t who we are! Our people should head home and let the criminals suffer the consequences!”
Trump’s allies in Congress appeared to get the message. At 3:52 p.m., Greene told Meadows: “Mark we don’t think these attackers are our people. We think they are Antifa. Dressed like Trump supporters.”
Five minutes later, Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican, texted Meadows: “Cap Police told me last night they’d been warned that today there’d be a lot of Antifa dressed in red Trump shirts & hats & would likely get violent.”
In the 16 months since January 6, hundreds of indictments have shown nearly all of those who breached the Capitol were in fact pro-Trump supporters.
While Greene was alarmed on January 6, by the next day she was apologizing that the efforts to block Biden’s certification had failed.
“Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the 6 states. I’m sorry nothing worked. I don’t think that President Trump caused the attack on the Capitol. It’s not his fault,” she wrote the morning of January 7. “Absolutely no excuse and I fully denounce all of it, but after shut downs all year and a stolen election, people are saying that they have no other choice.”
Meadows replied, “Thanks Marjorie.”
Greene is currently facing a legal challenge to disqualify her from running for Congress because of her alleged role in January 6. In court testimony Friday, the Georgia Republican repeatedly deflected or said she didn’t remember what she had said around the events of January 6. The Meadows text logs offer a new glimpse into what she was telling the White House chief of staff in real time.
On December 31, Greene reached out to Meadows for advice about how to prepare for objections to certifying the election on January 6.
“Good morning Mark, I’m here in DC. We have to get organized for the 6th,” Greene wrote. “I would like to meet with Rudy Giuliani again. We didn’t get to speak with him long. Also anyone who can help. We are getting a lot of members on board. And we need to lay out the best case for each state.”
Meadows does not appear to respond.
By January 17, Greene was suggesting ways to keep Trump in office, telling Meadows there were several Republicans in Congress who still wanted the then-President to declare martial law, which had been raised in a heated Oval Office meeting a month earlier.
Greene texted: “In our private chat with only Members, several are saying the only way to save our Republic is for Trump to call for Marshall (sic) law. I don’t know on those things. I just wanted you to tell him. They stole this election. We all know. They will destroy our country next. Please tell him to declassify as much as possible so we can go after Biden and anyone else!”
Again, Meadows does not appear to respond.
What Meadows turned over
Meadows provided the cache of 2,319 messages to the January 6 committee in December 2021. But soon after, he stopped cooperating and refused to appear for a deposition. Ultimately, the House voted to hold the former White House chief of staff in contempt of Congress. The Justice Department has not yet announced whether it will charge Meadows.
Meadows has sued the House committee in an attempt to block the congressional subpoenas. And in a late-night court filing on Friday, the committee responded with new details revealing Meadows was warned ahead of time that January 6 could turn violent, according to testimony from Cassidy Hutchison, one of Meadows’ former White House aides.
In addition, the committee released text messages Meadows exchanged with Republican members of Congress, including texts with Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania about a scheme to replace Justice Department leaders who opposed Trump’s claims of election fraud.
In late December, Perry reached out to Meadows, connecting him to then-DOJ official Jeffrey Clark, who was pushing unfounded claims of voter fraud inside the Justice Department. Trump was considering firing the acting attorney general and installing Clark instead. Clark invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times when he spoke to the January 6 committee in February.
On December 26, Perry texted Meadows, “Mark, just checking in as time continues to count down. 11 days to 1/6 and 25 days to inauguration. We gotta get going!”
“Mark, you should call Jeff,” he continued. “I just got off the phone with him and he explained to me why the principal deputy won’t work especially with the FBI. They will view it as as (sic) not having the authority to enforce what needs to be done.”
“I got it,” Meadows responded. “I think I understand. Let me work on the deputy position.”
On December 28, Perry reached out again: “Did you call Jeff Clark?” Meadows does not appear to respond.
Meadows withheld more than 1,000 messages from the committee on claims of privilege, the panel said in Friday’s court filing. In his lawsuit, Meadows’ attorney argued the former White House chief of staff “has been put in the untenable position of choosing between conflicting privilege claims.”
Hannity to Meadows: ‘Yes sir’
In addition to the texts the committee has released, CNN and other news organizations have previously published selections of text messages Meadows received from Lee, Roy, Trump Jr., Perry and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas.
The logs obtained by CNN include numerous messages from official White House cell phone numbers. Some have been identified by CNN, others are unknown.
There are also numerous group texts with Trump’s inner circle. The various group chats include Meadows, Ivanka Trump, Trump Jr. and Kushner, as well as top advisers such as Hope Hicks, campaign manager Bill Stepien, Miller and Scavino, among others.
Some texts only include links to news reports and social media. Others appear to contain content that was cut-and-pasted and forwarded. The logs do not contain images or attachments.
Meadows’ messages also include dozens of exchanges with Fox hosts, as well as journalists from the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Politico, Bloomberg, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN.
Among Meadows’ most frequent interactions were those with Fox’s Sean Hannity, a well-known friend of Trump. Throughout the logs, Hannity both gives advice and asks for direction.
On the afternoon of Election Day, Hannity texted Meadows to ask about turnout in North Carolina.
Meadows responded: “Stress every vote matters. Get out and vote.”
“Yes sir,” Hannity replied. “On it. Any place in particular we need a push.”
“Pennsylvania. NC AZ,” Meadows wrote. “Nevada.”
“Got it. Everywhere,” Hannity said.
For the most part, Meadows’ texts are short, and frequently he does not appear to reply at all. Some conversations include non sequiturs. It’s unclear whether Meadows did not respond to the messages or if the logs are incomplete, because texts could also have been deleted or withheld for claims of privilege.
CNN reached out for comment to all individuals who sent text messages quoted in this story. Meadows and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the January 6 committee declined to comment.
The fight to ‘stop the steal’
The text messages provide a timeline showing how Trump’s team searched all corners for evidence of election fraud and tried to overturn the election. Beginning on Election Day, Meadows was in the middle of it all, from connecting activists pushing conspiracy theories to strategizing with GOP lawmakers and rally organizers preparing for January 6.
The texts also show Meadows was dealing with everything from mediating a fight over who would be on the speaker’s list for the January 6 rally to fielding requests to pay Giuliani’s bills.
“Sir, we are airborne on the way to Michigan from Arizona. We’re going to need a hotel for the team and two vehicles to pick us up,” Bernie Kerik, a Giuliani associate, texted Meadows on December 1.
Reached for comment by CNN, Kerik confirmed the text was his and said that he never received a credit card for those travel expenses, paid for it himself and was later reimbursed.
Other texts show Meadows coordinating with GOP activists in the immediate aftermath of the election.
“Pls get 4 or 5 killers in remaining counts. Need outsiders who will torch the place. Local folks won’t do it. Lawyers and operators. Get us in these states,” American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp texted Meadows on November 4.
“I may need to get you and mercy (sic) to go to PA,” Meadows responded, referring to Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes, who is a former Trump White House aide.
On a few occasions, Trump family members weighed in. Ivanka Trump sent a note on November 5 to a group that included Kushner, Hicks, Stepien, Miller and Meadows: “You are all WARRIORS of epic proportions! Keep the faith and the fight.”
Dozens of Republicans also offered support and advice to Meadows — as well as perpetuated conspiracy theories that were gaining traction in right-wing media.
For instance, Rep. Ted Budd, a North Carolina Republican now running for Senate, suggested in a text on November 7 that Dominion Voting Systems could be connected to George Soros’ company. Dominion has no corporate ties to Soros, a billionaire and frequent target of baseless conspiracy theories, according to a CNN fact check.
On November 6, Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican, appeared to suggest that state legislatures should appoint electors “in the various states where there’s been shenanigans,” a move he acknowledged would be “highly controversial.” In his text, he wrote the legislatures could appoint “a look doors,” which is phonetically similar to electors.
On December 1, then-Attorney General William Barr infuriated Trump when he publicly stated that the Justice Department did not find widespread evidence of voter fraud. Nevertheless, Meadows received multiple texts pushing back, including from Schlapp later that day: “Happy to walk ag through our evidence. Its (sic) overwhelming.”
The texts also show Meadows reached out to GOP officials in multiple states to lobby for Trump’s cause. On two occasions, Meadows attempted to contact Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was under attack from Trump for certifying Georgia’s election for Biden.
“mr Secretary. Can you call the White House switchboard,” Meadows wrote on December 5. “Your voicemail is full.”
Raffensperger does not appear to reply to the messages.
Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia are under investigation by a district attorney in the Atlanta area.
Meadows also received text messages from GOP activists and local officials making outlandish claims, including allegations that “traitors inside our intel agencies” were committing election fraud, as well as baseless charges that voting equipment companies Dominion and Smartmatic had manipulated votes — the same false claims being pushed by Giuliani and Powell.
Both companies have filed billion-dollar lawsuits over the false election claims, including against Fox News, right-wing media organizations, Giuliani, Powell and Lindell.
Throughout the two months, Meadows received dozens of messages from Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward, who offered what she claimed were examples and sources of voter fraud.
On December 9, she sent a text to Meadows letting him know she’d already reached out to Trump’s executive assistant: “This guy says he’s cracked the whole election fraud and wants to speak to someone. I sent his info to Molly Michael a few days ago, but I’m not sure it went anywhere.”
“I will call him,” Meadows responded.
Another frequent texter was Lindell, one of the most vocal proponents of baseless election conspiracy theories. Even after courts had dismissed dozens of Trump’s legal challenges, the My Pillow CEO was still pressing the White House.
“Everything Sidney has said is true! We have to get the machines and everything we already have proves the President won by millions of votes!” Lindell texted Meadows on December 20. “This is the biggest cover up of one of the worst crimes in history! I have spent over a million$ to help uncover this fraud and used my platform so people can get the word not to give up!”
Meadows replied, “Thanks brother. Pray for a miracle.”
Reached for comment by CNN, Lindell confirmed the text was his. He told CNN that he has not spoken to Meadows since before January 20, 2021, and that at the time he was “just trying to get an appointment with the President.”
Doubts about election fraud
While Trump and his allies publicly stuck by their claims that the election had been stolen, behind the scenes, Trump’s inner circle — including Meadows — expressed some doubts. Trump’s aides also questioned whether lawyers like Giuliani and Powell were doing more harm than good.
On November 6, Miller, Trump’s campaign spokesman, texted a group, which included Ivanka Trump, Kushner, Hicks, Stepien, Scavino and Meadows, suggesting that the numbers in Philadelphia didn’t back up claims about alleged election fraud there.
“One other key data point: In 2016, POTUS received 15.5% of the vote in Philadelphia County. Today he is currently at 18.3%. So he increased from his performance in 2016. In 2016, Philadelphia County made up 11.3% of the total vote in the state. As it currently stands, Philadelphia County only makes up 10.2% of the statewide vote tally. So POTUS performed better in a smaller share. Sen. (Rick) Santorum was just making this point on CNN – cuts hard against the urban vote stealing narrative,” Miller wrote.
A week later, Miller wrote to Meadows again, this time saying that campaign research did not find any evidence of a conspiracy involving Soros, the Democratic donor. Miller also said he was concerned about sharing the findings with Trump.
“Lots there re: functionality problems, not much there on Dem/Soros conspiracy connections,” Miller wrote on November 13. “Will defer to you on whether or not to share full report with POTUS. POTUS is clearly hyped up on them, not just from his tweets, but he also called me and Justin separately last night to complain. JM.”
On November 20, Meadows was asked by a Florida contact how confident he was about fraud related to Dominion. Meadows texted back: “Dominion, not that confident. Other fraud. Very confident.”
Two days later, Ginni Thomas messaged Meadows with apparent concerns, asking, “Trying to understand the Sidney Powell distancing…”
Meadows responded: “She doesn’t have anything or at least she won’t share it if she does.”
“Wow!” Ginni Thomas wrote back.
In one of the few messages Meadows received from Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law shared a fact check on December 4 debunking one of the most prominent election fraud claims from Georgia. The article showed that despite inflammatory claims of poll workers stashing suitcases filled with ballots under a table, that did not, in fact, occur.
‘Hoping the VP sticks with us’
After the Electoral College affirmed Biden’s win on December 14, Trump’s allies turned their attention to January 6: the congressional certification of the electors and the rally that Trump said on Twitter “will be wild!”
On December 21, Brooks, the Alabama congressman, wrote to Meadows and others in a group text asking whether he should engage with the media about the “formulation of our January 6 strategies.”
“Does the White House want me to reply or be mum?” Brooks wrote. A staunch Trump ally running for Senate this year, Brooks gave an incendiary speech on January 6 but recently fell out of favor with Trump after suggesting Republicans should move on from 2020.
In response to CNN’s request for comment, Brooks said he had “no regrets” about his speech on January 6 and that he was “shocked” by the violence. “I had no inkling,” Brooks added.
Cruz, a Texas Republican who pushed a plan inside the Senate that would have delayed certification of the election, exchanged just a few messages with Meadows — links to his statements posted to social media.
On January 2, the senator sent Meadows his tweet proposing a 10-day audit of the election results.
“Here’s the statement,” Cruz wrote.
“Perfect,” Meadows responded.
The texts also make frequent reference to then-Vice President Mike Pence, who refused to go along with Trump’s plan to try to block the certification on January 6. On December 30, Rep. Brian Babin of Texas expressed concern that congressional leaders might try to short circuit their objections — and that Pence was not on board.
“Dems and some Republicans may well try to shortstop our objection efforts. Hoping the VP sticks with us,” Babin wrote.
On New Year’s Eve, Miller shared a news article with Meadows that Pence opposed a lawsuit intended to help overturn the election. Miller warned that it could be used “to drive a massive wedge between POTUS and everybody else in the party.”
“He’s absolutely going to blow his stack on this if he isn’t already aware,” Miller said of Trump. “Oh boy I don’t understand what the VP was thinking here.”
On January 5, Jordan, the Ohio congressman and close GOP ally of Meadows, weighed in.
“On January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence, as President of the Senate, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all — in accordance with guidance from founding father Alexander Hamilton and judicial precedence,” Jordan wrote.
Meadows responded the morning of January 6: “I have pushed for this. Not sure it is going to happen.”
The January 6 committee included the text exchange in its Friday court filing as evidence of Meadows’ alleged involvement in the effort to overturn the election.
The logs also show Meadows was involved with planning the rally on January 6, helping to mediate a fight over the speakers list. Trump adviser Katrina Pierson was alarmed at some of the proposed fringe figures who wanted to speak.
On January 2 and 3, Pierson wrote to Meadows looking for help.
“Good afternoon, would you mind giving me a call re: this Jan 6th event. Things have gotten crazy and I desperately need some direction. Please,” she asked on January 2.
The next day, she reached out again: “Scratch that, Caroline Wren has decided to move forward with the original psycho list. Apparently Dan Scavino approved??”
She continued: “So, I’m done. I can’t be a part of embarrassing POTUS any further.”
Wren was a fundraiser for the Trump campaign and helped organize the January 6 rally. She has been subpoenaed by the January 6 committee.
Less than an hour later, Pierson wrote Meadows that she told Wren she was talking to the White House in order to get her to back down.
“I let her know that I was going to reach out to WH and her tone changed,” Pierson wrote. “So, I’ll continue to build a proper event.”
“Thank you,” Meadows responded.
‘As bad as this can get’
In the aftermath of the violence at the Capitol on January 6, Trump’s inner circle discussed in a group text how to deal with the fallout — and Trump’s suspension from Twitter. At 10:10 p.m. on January 6, Kushner texted the group: “Why don’t we post on his Facebook page since he isn’t locked out there.”
In the final days of Trump’s term, as he faced impeachment for a second time, Meadows received words of encouragement from staunch allies, as well as caution from advisers.
“I would like to pass to POTUS that we are still with him, I believe in him and I want to encourage him,” Rep. Andrew Clyde, a freshman Georgia Republican, wrote on January 9. “I truly hope he does create a new platform to complete (sic) with Twitter and I hope he calls it ‘Trumpet’ and then we can send out ‘notes’ to each other!”
“I will share it with him. Thanks Andrew,” Meadows responded.
On January 13, the day the House voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol — with 10 Republicans joining Democrats — Miller shared polling data in a group text with Meadows, Scavino and Kushner that showed “2/3 of the MAGA base wants us to move on.”
“I tried to walk the President through this earlier but he won’t have any of it,” Miller said.
As Trump prepared to leave power, he appeared to be a pariah in the Republican Party. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy had said during the House’s January 13 impeachment debate that the outgoing President “bears responsibility” for the riot. Six days later, on January 19, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell denounced Trump from the floor of the Senate, saying the mob that attacked the Capitol was “provoked by the President and other powerful people.”
Nevertheless, Trump’s standing in the Republican Party quickly recovered, especially after McCarthy’s January 28 visit to Mar-a-Lago and the February 2021 acquittal of Trump in the Senate impeachment trial.
But before Trump left office, the Meadows text logs show some of Trump’s staunchest allies were dejected. On January 19, in one of the final texts Meadows received as chief of staff, Fox’s Sean Hannity shared a video of McConnell’s floor speech.
Hannity texted Meadows: “Well this is as bad as this can get.”
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.
CNN’s Ryan Nobles, Tara Subramanian and Christie Johnson contributed to this report.