On Nov. 6, 2020, the election was still uncalled.
Votes were still being counted in Pennsylvania, the last major swing state that remained between Democratic candidate Joe Biden and the presidency.
Then-President Trump’s campaign was projecting confidence. Campaign manager Bill Stepien had said that the campaign was “declaring a victory” in Pennsylvania on Nov. 4 as Trump surrogates began to fire baseless accusations at the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, saying that big city Democratic machines were manipulating the vote count.
But behind the scenes, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller struck a profoundly different tune: Trump’s 2020 returns in Philadelphia had improved from 2016, he texted senior Trump campaign officials including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Mark Meadows. But, he added, there was a problem.
The share of Philadelphia’s vote had shrunk significantly from the 2016 election, meaning, in Miller’s words, that the data “cuts hard against the urban vote stealing narrative.”
It’s one of many texts published on Monday by CNN and released over recent weeks in the seditious conspiracy cases against the Oath Keepers that show senior Trump campaign officials acknowledging the basic reality of the election — that Trump lost decisively — and who was responsible for Jan. 6: supporters of President Trump.
The messages also show those same senior officials developing communications strategies to elide the truth. Miller’s remark above, for example, came in response to Rick Santorum explaining the same live on CNN.
Miller found himself in a similar position on Nov. 13, but this time, with regard to a wilder conspiracy theory that involved Dominion, the voting machine company.
“Emailed you Dominion backgrounder,” he wrote to Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff. “Lots there re: functionality problems, not much there on Dem/Soros conspiracy connections.”
At the time, Trump was claiming that the voting machine firm was owned by the “radical left” and had participated in a plot to deny him his victory. Those claims have led to multiple defamation lawsuits.
“Will defer to you on whether or not to share full report with POTUS,” Miller wrote to Meadows. “POTUS is clearly hyped up on them, not just from his tweets, but he also called me and Justin separately last night to complain.”
The same pattern continued through Jan. 6, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building.
“Mark, I was just told there is an active shooter on the first floor of the Capitol,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) wrote to Meadows as the attack took place. “Please tell the President to calm people This isn’t the way to solve anything.”
It’s a message that presumes Trump was the only person in a position to do anything about the situation.
“Mark: he needs to stop this, now. Can I do anything to help?” wrote Mick Mulvaney, another former chief of staff, to Meadows.
“It’s really bad up here on the hill,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) wrote to Meadows, adding later: “This doesn’t help our cause.”
All the texts released by CNN presumed that it was Trump supporters behind the insurrection, until Miller interjected with some spin: blame it on Antifa.
“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!” Miller wrote. The second idea suggested that “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.”
Texts released from the Oath Keepers — some of whom composed the mob inside the Capitol — took a similar line.
When one Oath Keeper not present in Washington suggested that Antifa was responsible, the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, replied: “Look, I WAS THERE. I WAS RIGHT OUSIDE. Patriots stormed in. Not Antifa.”
But within hours, House Republicans lean in on the Antifa line.
“Mark we don’t think these attackers are our people,” Rep. Taylor Greene wrote in another, later message. “We think they are Antifa. Dressed like Trump supporters.”