When businessman Marty Davis made his way into the Oval Office in mid-December 2020, he brought a blanket for former First Lady Melania Trump. Davis, the CEO of a quartz countertop company, also brought a series of wild election conspiracy theories for Melania’s husband.
Davis’ meeting with former President Donald Trump, which has not previously been reported, was revealed in the tranche of 2,319 text messages that the former president’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, turned over to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
TPM has obtained these messages and analyzed them for our in-depth series, “The Meadows Texts.” While our stories thus far have largely focused on the members of Congress who wrote Meadows about efforts to overturn the election, the text log also shows a wide array of people were corresponding with Trump’s chief of staff about efforts to challenge his loss.
Meadows received messages from every corner of the right-wing ecosystem. The election conspiracy paranoia and schemes to challenge the vote count came from a diverse cast of characters ranging from professional political players to rank-and-file party loyalists.
Davis is a prime example of one group that had a large presence in the text log: businesspeople with a direct line to Meadows. And Davis — quite literally — seems to have gone further than any of them.
Based on the texts, Davis’ trip to the Oval Office began as he repeatedly peppered Meadows with advice and encouragement to “expose the corrupt election and reverse this result by exposing illegal votes.” In a message to Meadows, Davis indicated he was pressing at least six Republican lawmakers to aggressively challenge Trump’s loss in the 2020 election.
Davis is a prolific donor to Republican politicians. On Dec. 9, 2020, as a slew of Trump allies around the country were engaged in efforts to overturn the vote, Davis indicated he was pressing various contacts to get himself a White House meeting. As he sought to enlist Trump’s chief of staff in this effort, Davis dangled the possibility he would host Meadows on a “goose hunting trip.”
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Davis’ pitch was evidently successful. Seven days later he wrote another message to Meadows describing his sitdown with Trump. Based on that message, Trump had told Davis he wanted to seize voting machines “for evidence.” Davis also seemed to feel Trump was fixated on the thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories involving Dominion, a voting systems company that loomed large in the imaginations of many 2020 election deniers. Countless experts — including multiple Trump administration officials — have testified the claims about Dominion had no merit and even Meadows, in some of his texts, indicated he was dubious of the claims about the company. Ultimately, Dominion filed a series of defamation suits against Trump allies who pushed the theory. While some of those cases are ongoing, Dominion has had some success in initial court decisions. Davis wrote Meadows indicating he was concerned about Trump’s focus on Dominion. He was eager for Trump to get behind other, more run-of-the-mill right-wing conspiracy theories about fraud.
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“Thanks,” Meadows replied.
Reached by phone on Friday, Davis initially did not want to discuss his meeting with Trump.
“I don’t want to talk about it. It was a courtesy call,” he told TPM.
When reminded of his text messages, Davis admitted he visited the Oval Office to thank Trump and give “a blanket” to Melania. He also said that he and Trump discussed the election. Davis indicated he was focused on concerns raised by the controversial right-wing group Project Veritas about alleged “ballot harvesting” which the group claimed to connect to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). The group’s supposed exposé contained no evidence and was later labeled a “coordinated disinformation campaign” by experts. Thanks to Davis, that alleged disinformation made it straight to the president’s desk.
“I gave information or input to what I thought they needed to do to investigate it,” Davis said. “I thought they should have had hearings on that.”
Meadows and Trump did not respond to requests for comment. For more information about the story behind the text log and our procedures for publishing the messages, read the introduction to this series.
Along with people from the business world and from Congress, Meadows received messages from current and former members of the Trump administration offering advice on the efforts to challenge the election and boost claims of voter fraud. Meadows’ immediate predecessor, former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, is one of the Trump White House alums who weighed in.
Twenty days after the 2020 presidential election, Mulvaney reached out to Meadows with a plan modeled after the official response to the Kennedy assassination.
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There was no response from Meadows in the text message logs. TPM independently verified Mulvaney’s phone number. He did not respond to a request for comment.
While Mulvaney’s “Warren Commission” proposal was certainly tinged with conspiratorial logic, it also seemed to acknowledge Trump’s loss. The plan seemed to be something of an off ramp, a way for Trump to save face and air his baseless claims about voter fraud while still stepping aside. Mulvaney’s planning for Joe Biden to take office stands in stark contrast to his successor’s extended efforts to challenge the vote. Mulvaney was one of the individuals in the text log who messaged Meadows on Jan. 6 to express dismay and urge Trump to calm the crowds.
Russell Vought, who is the former director of the powerful Office of Management and Budget, also texted Meadows. Vought seemingly pressed Meadows to pursue a variation of the alternate electors strategy through which Republican-controlled legislatures could subvert the vote in key swing states.
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Meadows seemed to be on board with Vought’s plan.
“Agreed,” Meadows replied.
Vought, whose phone number could not be independently verified by TPM, did not respond to requests for comment.
John Calvin Fleming straddles two of the worlds represented in Meadows’ text log. He was a Trump administration official and, prior to joining the White House, Fleming served in Congress where he represented Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District. Along with Meadows, Mulvaney, and six other members, he founded the far-right House Freedom Caucus in 2015.
While there were other former members of Congress in the text log, Fleming’s contribution stands out. He exchanged over 20 messages with Meadows where he aired fevered fears about “fraudulent voting activities,” “corrupt commissioners,” and “PHANTOM VOTES.” Fleming also described coordinating with Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) on efforts to dispute the election. On Nov. 21, 2020, Fleming sent Meadows a pair of links. One was a transcript of the late right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh railing against Dominion; the other was a clip from Rumble, a video platform popular among the far right, that Fleming said showed “how the Dominion algorithm worked.” Fleming followed that up with his own narration of the wild theory.
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Eight months after sending these texts Fleming joined a lobbying firm, The McKeon Group.
Reached by phone on Friday, Fleming described himself as “curious like everybody else” and said he simply “passed any suggestions on that may have been brought up.”
“I didn’t then and I don’t now have any information that would say one way or another on any type of anomalies or abnormalities that may have happened during the election,” Fleming said.
Trump campaign aides were another major source of the election conspiracy theories and strategies to overturn the vote that made their way to Meadows’ phone. John McLaughlin, a Republican pollster with a reputation for producing questionable numbers who worked for the Trump campaign during the 2020 race, sent Meadows multiple paranoid messages with concerns about voter fraud in ballot drop boxes. He also encouraged the legal challenges and urged Trump not to admit defeat in a text on Dec. 2, 2020, just shy of one month after Election Day.
“Any questions just call. Keep fighting. President can’t concede to keep legal standing to get to fraud,” McLaughlin wrote.
McLaughlin, whose phone number could not be independently verified by TPM, did not respond to requests for comment.
Along with Trump’s allies in Washington, local politicians messaged Meadows to provide advice, encouragement, and offers of support. One of them was Lance Dillenschneider, who recently mounted an unsuccessful bid for a spot in the Jackson County, Missouri, legislature.
According to Dillenschneider, he met Meadows while on vacation at the Breakers, a luxe hotel near Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. Dillenschneider told TPM that he struck up a conversation with Meadows after recognizing him from the television. He said they had plans to meet again in the nation’s capital.
“He was going to give me the — at some point we were going to get the insider tour of Washington and COVID hit so that never happened,” Dillenschneider explained to TPM. “Then, of course, the election. So, consequently, I never got my insider tour.”
In the weeks after the election, Dillenschneider wrote Meadows to offer support, prayers, and baseless allegations about the vote.
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The story of Dillenschneider’s meeting with Meadows suggests how easily the former White House chief of staff gave out his phone number. As a result, the net with which Meadows drew in conspiracy theories and counsel was quite wide. Dillenschneider wasn’t actually a politician when he first began corresponding with the White House chief of staff. He told TPM that he and his wife — a self-described “Trumpette” — both decided to run for local office after their son passed away in mid-2021.
“I never wanted to be a politician, never wanted to get into politics. However, the issues in my county were massive — crippling property taxes and massive fentanyl deaths,” Dillenschneider explained, adding, “We lost our 32-year-old son to fentanyl intoxication a year and a half ago. And those types of things are what prompted me to step in.”
Along with showing the ease with which a diverse array of Republicans connected with Meadows, Dillenschneider’s story provides hints of the factors that fuel Trump’s enduring appeal and the persistence of the election denial movement. Like many Trump supporters, Dillenschneider felt the former president focused on issues that were long ignored by others in Washington.
“He was the first one that ever even brought it up, and that was, of course, before our son’s death,” Dillenschneider said. “I never ever really had heard of fentanyl before President Trump brought it to my attention.”
Hearing his texts had been turned over to congressional investigators clearly disturbed Dillenscheider.
“Am I gonna expect the FBI at my door, kicking my door down and taking all my files or whatever?” he asked.
And while Dillenschneider’s support for Trump and doubts about voter fraud remain unwavering, his opinion of Meadows went down a notch after he learned the former chief of staff handed over their correspondence.
“If I ever see him again I’ll say, ‘Hey, thanks a lot, buddy,’” Dillenschneider said of Meadows, adding, “All I wanted to do was take you up on your offer of getting the insider Washington tour.”