Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows requested that the US Department of Justice call the Italian government to consider a conspiracy theory that migrated from QAnon-linked corners of the internet to the White House, according to a House select committee investigation into the baseless voter fraud narrative that fuelled violence at the US Capitol on 6 January.
Mr Meadows – according to documents first obtained by members of Congress and reviewed by news outlets last year – reportedly told then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in the wake of Mr Trump’s 2020 presidential election loss to investigate spurious fraud claims in states that he lost.
He allegedly pressed Mr Rosen to investigate several debunked allegations, including a “theory” that Italian officials in coordination with Barack Obama and the CIA used satellites and military technology to manipulate US voting machines, a claim that circulated among QAnon-affiliated groups and far-right media outlets before coming to the attention of Republican congressman Scott Perry, who sent a YouTube link to Mr Meadows.
“Why can’t we just work with the Italian government?” Mr Perry wrote to Mr Meadows on 31 December, 2020, according to texts obtained by the committee. The video was posted on YouTube on 18 December.
In his request for the Justice Department to investigate the conspiracy theory, Mr Meadows emailed the video to Mr Rosen.
The conspiracy theory elevated by a man named Brad Johnson across far-right media pulls from claims made across far-right social media platforms and on messageboards like 4chan and TheDonald.win and amplified by QAnon influencers.
Ron Watkins – a site administrator for 8chan who is widely speculated as the source of Q posts and now is running for Congress as a Republican in Arizona – began elevating the claims in early January 2021. The conspiracy theory was also shared among GOP officials in Nevada that month.
Mr Johnson’s bogus allegations suggest a military satellite controlled by an Italian defence contractor was manipulated by an anti-Trump State Department official with support from overseas intelligence services.
His claims appeared to draw from an article in an Italian newspaper from a right-wing television commentator, claiming that the Trump administration was investigating whether an official at the US embassy in Rome conspired to manipulate the results of the election – a report that sparked a chain of events that brought the conspiracy theory to White House officials, on letterhead belonging to a Virginia aviation company.
Richard Donoghue, the former acting deputy attorney general, told the committee that the claims in the video were “pure insanity.”
Committee member and Republican US Rep Adam Kinzinger said the committee’s investigation “found that this wild baseless conspiracy theory made it from the recesses of the internet to the highest echelons of our government.”