Score One For ItalyGate: Kansas To Investigate Trump 2020 Win

Proponent of bonkers election-hacking conspiracy theory convinces Kansas to audit Trump's victory.
TPM Illustration/Getty Images

In March, the Kansas legislature’s Committee on Federal and State Affairs heard a wild tale: the 2020 election was compromised, and Italy was responsible.

It was a massive, elaborate heist, carried out by satellites that zapped voting machines across the country, part of an intricate conspiracy in which none other than Barack Obama had ferried pallets of cash to the Italian Prime Minister via Dubai in an effort to secure Biden’s 2020 victory.

Maria Zack, a GOP activist who had pushed the “ItalyGate” conspiracy theory to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the days after the 2020 election, delivered the March 15 presentation, imploring legislators to take her seriously and investigate the state’s own 2020 federal election.

Apparently, a number of them they did.

Weeks after her testimony, the auditing arm of Kansas’ legislature agreed to conduct an investigation into security issues around the 2020 election, basing much of the project on wild, unsubstantiated claims that have circulated among those still seeking to discredit the 2020 results.

It’s a story that has unfolded repeatedly since November 2020: a conservative election truther urges a state legislature to recount (and recount, and recount) its 2020 ballots to expose the fraud that they contend put Biden in the White House.

But Kansas is a little different than the many states that have earned Trump-inspired audits, however: In Kansas, Trump won.

“Why Kansas? Because Kansas was a pro-Trump victor of electors,” Zack told state senators in March. “But, I would argue, you don’t know. You do not know the real result of your election. You also probably have not been made aware of what was occurring in Italy.”

In her hour-long presentation, Zack free-associated, combining language reminiscent of Tom Clancy, the spurious voter fraud allegations of Wisconsin’s Republican election investigator Michael Gableman, and QAnon’s flavor of critical thinking to argue that an Italian defense contractor used satellites to zap the 2020 election away from Trump and hand it to Biden.

Kansas is the “‘first Trump elector state’ to conduct an audit of the 2020 election,” Zack’s group, Nations in Action, said in an April statement, thanking State Sen. Dennis Pyle (R) for his “stealth actions keeping everything quiet to bypass the swamp and win the day.”

It’s not clear how far-reaching the audit will be, or even how or why Zack settled on Kansas as the state to run with.

Zack, along with her nonprofit Nations in Action, played a key role after the 2020 election in boosting the ItalyGate theory, TPM reported last year. Hans von Spakovsky, a prominent voter fraud alarmist, had been on the Nations in Actions’ board, but removed himself after Jan. 6.

Zack did not return TPM’s requests for comment. One Kansas legislative aide told TPM that Pyle lobbied the committee to have her speak.

Pyle also did not return TPM’s requests for comment.

The process by which Zack appears to have gotten Kansas to audit Trump’s 2020 victory mirrors that which has consumed the effort to subvert the 2020 election from the start: wild accusations given an official imprimatur, leading to an unclear result other than elections themselves being discredited.

During the March hearing, Zack told Kansas senators several things: that she had given information about a supposed $400 million bribe that Barack Obama transferred to Italy’s former Prime Minister to the Durham investigation, that some of her followers had gone to Italy to investigate but instead “gotten massages and rented villas,” and that she may, very soon, be killed for speaking out.

“I may not make it much longer,” she announced. “So this is my way of telling the world exactly what is happening; I will die for my country and I hope everyone in this room will as well, because we owe it to every military person around the world who has sacrificed the same, and today we are faced with that same challenge.”

Zack recounted to the Kansas senators the details of the conspiracy theory, which holds that CIA agents at the U.S. Embassy in Rome allegedly directed an Italian defense contractor named Leonardo to use satellite transmissions to zap millions of Trump votes into Biden ones, thereby snatching victory away from Trump.

The theory centers on an Italian man named Arturo D’Elia, arrested in December 2020 as part of a real hacking investigation. Zack has claimed that D’Elia is a whistleblower for her cause, but somehow never managed to marshal evidence to support that assertion. D’Elia’s attorney has said that her client believes the ItalyGate story to be “pure fantasy.”

But the baroque theory itself has endured in part because it helps explain a Trump fixation related to the 2020 count: that millions of Biden votes that supposedly appeared, out of nowhere, in the middle of the night. In the Italygate theory, the zapping satellites explain the votes.

Leading Trump officials seized on the theory in the weeks before the insurrection. Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows received texts from Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) about it, and shared a YouTube video with acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donohue that outlined the allegations.

“Pure insanity,” Donohue wrote in a message forwarding Meadows’ email to acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

Zack has kept the theory alive. She concluded her speech last March with appeals to Kansans themselves.

“This is about global control, and that is the mechanism they use to take down America,” Zack said. “And they came right into Kansas and jimmied your votes — I think you have a right to know.”

Weeks after that session, on April 22, the Kansas Legislative Post Audit Committee met for one of its regular sessions.

Past audits have included “Evaluating Disbursements for the Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship Program” and “Industrial Revenue Bonds Property Tax Exemptions.” But this one, proposed by Pyle as he waved around a copy of Gableman’s Wisconsin Big Lie investigation, instead focuses on election security.

It’s a watered down version of Zack’s internationalized conspiracy theories, though the audit will still review topics near and dear to the hearts of those who believe that the 2020 election was stolen. The question of nursing home voting — a topic on which Gableman has fixated — will appear, as will whether “Kansas county election offices have adequate policies and procedures to ensure the accuracy and security of voting machines used for elections.”

In a statement lauding the investigation, Zack said that “people who flat out say there was no fraud need to be investigated to determine as to who ordered them to lie as there are always fraud and errors in every election.”

Below is a copy of Zack’s presentation to Kansas legislators:

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