Special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment of former President Donald Trump details a sweeping criminal conspiracy to reverse his loss in the 2020 election. Smith described a marked shift away from legitimate election challenges toward a strategy in which the President and those close to him used “knowing deceit in the targeted states to impair, obstruct, and defeat the federal government function.” And Smith identified one day as the key turning point when the plot veered from political gamesmanship into deliberate falsehoods: November 13, 2020.
Text messages obtained by Talking Points Memo — most which have not previously been made public — paint a picture of what was going on behind the scenes in the White House during the crucial period the special prosecutor has zeroed in on. In particular, they reveal that Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and former Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward were among those who played key roles in elements of the alleged conspiracy from the moment Smith said it began.
Smith’s investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, which culminated in the Jan. 6 attack, was preceded by a House select committee probe focused on the violence at the Capitol. Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows provided 2,319 of his text messages to the House committee. TPM obtained those messages from multiple sources and published the most newsworthy communications as part of a series that showed how members of the Trump administration worked with far-right activists, Republican officials, and lawmakers at every level of government on the plot. The introduction to “The Meadows Texts” series includes further details the origin of the messages — which are likely only a partial record of Meadows’ communications — and our procedures for verifying and publishing them.
Some of Meadows’ texts add vital context to Smith’s indictment and expose how McDaniel and Ward played a role in elements of the alleged conspiracy. McDaniel makes a couple of brief appearances in the indictment. Neither McDaniel nor Ward has been charged. Meadows, who is unnamed but appears repeatedly in the Trump indictment, has not been charged and is the subject of fierce speculation about whether he is cooperating with Smith’s probe. Through a spokesperson, Meadows declined to comment on this story and questions about whether he is working with federal prosecutors.
Smith, in the indictment, notes some of Trump’s prior efforts to baselessly spread doubt about the integrity of the vote, but pinpoints Nov. 13, 2020 as the day Trump “launched his criminal scheme.” That moment, 10 days after the election, was when, as Smith put it in the indictment, the Trump campaign’s attorneys “conceded in court that he had lost the vote count in the state of Arizona—meaning based on the assessment the Defendant’s Campaign advisors had given him just a week earlier, the Defendant had lost the election.” According to Smith, the plot Trump and his allies began that day. Smith said their efforts focused on “seven targeted states;” Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Smith specifically identified six “knowingly false claims” about the election that were promoted by Trump. That list included the notion “more than 30,000 non-citizens had voted in Arizona.” Meadows’ texts show McDaniel was among the people promoting that false claim to the White House on the day the Trump campaign’s own attorneys ended their legal fight in that state. The messages also show that both McDaniel and Ward were texting him about continuing the challenge in that state as it became more and more far-fetched.
Ward’s role in efforts to reverse the election result has previously drawn the scrutiny of investigators. While McDaniel helped the Trump campaign publicly question the results in the first week after the election, the RNC chairwoman has — prior to the indictment — largely avoided being seen as a key player in the plot. These newly revealed messages provide far greater detail than was previously known about the part these two GOP officials played in the scheme at the very moment the special counsel has pegged as the major turning point.
Starting at 7:18 a.m. ETof Nov. 13, Ward sent Meadows two files. While images contained in the texts could not be seen in the data Meadows provided to the committee, the file titles refer to “LD17,” a key district in Arizona where state-level Republican candidates had more support than Trump’s presidential ticket. Ward followed that up with another message indicating she saw that as a notable discrepancy.
“This is one example of a legislative district where the state candidates appear to have outperformed Trump,” Ward wrote.
The messages obtained by TPM do not include a reply from Meadows to Ward’s data.
A little over an hour later, at 8:40 a.m. ET, McDaniel wrote in with what seems to be an early iteration of the idea there were approximately 30,000 votes from people who were not qualified to cast them. McDaniels’ messages about the theory have not been previously reported.
“About to do a TV hit. Will call after. I have number of federal not voters in this election at 2300 with 27,000 registered,” McDaniel wrote. “We don’t know yet who votes on Election Day. We only have AB early vote data. We do not get Election Day data until vote is certified.”
Meadows answered a minute later and suggested he was discussing the matter with Trump.
“Ok. Talked to potus,” he wrote.
While McDaniel’s initial message from that day did not specify that she was talking about Arizona or the notion non-citizens had voted, her subsequent communications make clear these were the issues she was raising with Meadows. After Meadows said he spoke with Trump, McDaniel replied with two messages addressing the idea that “illegal” votes may have been cast.
“No way for us to run names and determine who is illegal,” McDaniel wrote before adding in her follow-up, “That would require GOVT info that we would not have.”
Smith’s indictment noted that both Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives at the time, Republican Rusty Bowers, directly told Trump there “was no evidence of substantial fraud in Arizona.” According to the indictment, Stepien “informed [Trump] that a claim that had been circulating, that a substantial number of non-citizens had voted in Arizona, was false” on Nov. 13, the very day that McDaniel was texting Meadows about the possibility.
A senior Trump 2020 campaign official, who requested anonymity due to the ongoing investigation, told TPM the president’s election team found it “frustrating” that so many people outside the operation were reaching out to Trump and Meadows with various theories and to pitch schemes through which Trump might still win. While the official said they were aware of this behavior from Ward and others, they were initially surprised to learn of McDaniel’s involvement since she has, thus far, avoided scrutiny in the extensive coverage and investigations surrounding Trump’s efforts to stay in power.
“Ronna’s one that kind of did a good job of staying in the shadows,” the senior Trump campaign official said when informed of the texts. “That’s pretty eye opening.”
After having a moment to think about it, the official said it would be in character for McDaniel to promote election conspiracies at a moment Trump was eager to hear them.
“Whether you like Ronna or don’t like Ronna, one thing Ronna is kind of known for is being a president pleaser,” the senior Trump campaign official said. “So, I guess I’m not surprised that she was adding some logs to the fire on this, because, honestly, it’s what he wanted to hear at this time.”
After stoking conspiracy theories about the vote in 2020, McDaniel is currently leading an RNC initiative that seems designed to mitigate the damage false claims about the integrity of the elections has had on Republican turnout. That effort has been backed by several figures — including Trump himself — who fueled the “Big Lie” that his 2020 loss was not legitimate. McDaniel and an RNC spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
On the afternoon of Nov. 13, 2020, news broke that the Trump campaign gave up on its legal fight in Arizona. Smith identified this as the moment Trump officially, knowingly lost since, according to the indictment, the Trump campaign had delivered an assessment to the former president informing him that his only real chance of winning involved successfully disputing the result in that state.
However, Trump’s legal battle was far from over. On Nov. 13, the day Smith pegged as the main start of the criminal conspiracy, Trump tapped former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to lead a legal effort to fight the results. Giuliani, whose conspiracy-fueled work drew a rather mixed reception among Trump’s other allies, was identified as “co-conspirator 1” in Smith’s indictment.
At 1:06 p.m. on Nov. 13, Ward texted Meadows a link to CNN’s coverage of the Arizona case followed by an indignant abbreviation.
“WTH?” Ward wrote.
Ward and McDaniel weren’t the only leading Republicans texting Meadows about challenging the vote in Arizona. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) also sent Meadows messages strategizing about how to fight the vote in that state on Nov. 13. As TPM previously reported, Biggs was one of at least 34 members of Congress who texted with Meadows about plans to reverse the election result. Among that group, Biggs was one of Meadows’ most prolific correspondents. In his extensive messaging with Meadows that was previously chronicled on TPM, Biggs indicated that he had spoken directly with Trump in early November 2020 and that the former president asked him to reach out to then-Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) in an effort to challenge the results. Biggs told Meadows that Ducey, who ignored calls from Trump about refusing to certify Biden’s victory, would not speak with him.
On the afternoon of Nov. 13, shortly after the news about the court case broke, Biggs sent in a suggestion related to the conspiracy theories about non-citizen voters and the idea Trump could name alternate slates of electors who were willing to name him the winner and who could be certified by Republicans in states where he had lost.
“So one of the remedies that may still be left is to enjoin the certification of the election based on the Fed only ballots,” Biggs wrote. “If we can’t get the investigation done in time for that, we should make sure we have it done in time and can demonstrate that a significant number of illegal aliens votes in the election so that the legislature, when called into certify the electors, can reject them based on fraud. What do you think?”.
Meadows was clearly interested in the plan.
“I like it,” he replied to Biggs.
Along with knowingly spreading false information to dispute the vote, the plan to name fake electors was one of the main elements of the alleged conspiracy outlined by Smith in the indictment. According to Smith, McDaniel kept tabs on that effort and sent an emailed update to the White House about the “parallel” electors.
As the news of the Trump campaign’s Arizona legal challenge ending continued to reverberate, McDaniel and Ward kept firing off messages to Meadows about the results in the state. At 1:49 p.m. ET, in a message that was previously made public by the House select committee, Ward indicated she had spoken directly with Trump and had urged him to press the board of supervisors in Maricopa County to “audit” the vote:
“Just talked to POTUS,” she wrote. “He may call the Chairman of the Maricopa Board of Supervisors (BOS). Want to be sure he is briefed on what to discuss. 1. BOS has full authority (and obligation) to ensure integrity of the election in Maricopa County. Because state law is being ignored in Maricopa as they are unable to verify/hand audit by precinct (as required by law), a hand count audit of all votes cast in voting centers is necessary. 2. The BOS can ask for increased hand counting before certifying the election. 3. There are potential issues with Dominion systems that MUST be adjudicated before certification should ever be considered by BOS. Call me with any questions you might have. Thx!”
Trump’s allies pressed to conduct audits in multiple jurisdictions following the election. None of these audits, which were plagued with issues, changed the results. Ward’s message also referred to Dominion, a voting software company that was central to 2020 election conspiracies. Multiple officials from Trump’s own administration have testified that the claims about Dominion had no merit. Meadows indicated he was skeptical of the theory in some of his text messages. Dominion filed defamation lawsuits against Trump allies who pushed the claims publicly. Some of those cases are ongoing, but the company has had some success in initial court decisions.
Roughly a half hour later, Ward wrote Meadows to note the Arizona Republican Party had a lawsuit of its own pressing for an audit.
“The BOS has opportunity to shine the light on this,” Ward said.
“Ok. Thanks,” Meadows replied.
After another 20 minutes, Ward wrote again detailing her frustration with the Trump campaign’s decision to end the legal challenge in Arizona and her own strategies for keeping up the fight.
“Are our lawyers in AZ afraid of being blackballed by the left? They didn’t talk to us at all about dropping the case,” Ward said. “We need to ask for a motion for time to present discovery as well as an order to preserve all election related documentation / hard copy and digital. People are being told the campaign and RNC aren’t going to pay attorneys in AZ so that’s why they are dropping out. This is horrible.”
Meadows responded indicating the legal matter the campaign and RNC would not pay for was “a counter claim about being sanctioned.” Ward blasted off three separate messages indicating that she did not buy that explanation.
“We were told sanctions weren’t even mentioned yesterday. Can I forward you the email? … What’s the best place to send it?” she asked. “It sounds like that’s a total cop out.”
Meadows provided her with his email address. Ward’s messages about the legal challenge have not been previously published.
On the evening of Nov. 13, Meadows received a text from Matt Schlapp, a veteran conservative activist with close ties to Trump. Schlapp indicated he was working on efforts to challenge the result in key states including Nevada, which, along with Arizona, was one of the “seven targeted states” cited by Smith in the indictment. In messages that were riddled with typos and non-standard grammar, Schlapp indicated the people working on the effort to fight the result needed more resources.
“We are starting to be way to threadbare in each state. Nevada never got money. People are leaving. No one is in charge on ground in pa. I dont think anyone really understands,” Schlapp said in one message before adding a few minutes later, “We need a non potus mtg to kick some butt. We need a leader on the ground in each state who is there. And we need 20 or so highly co.petant people to do logistics press social media rallies and tons of legal work w Whistle-blowers and affidavits. We don’t have a serious effort on the ground.”
Meadows responded and indicated that funds were being secured and that he was coordinating with McDaniel on this front.
“Money has been allocated for Nevada. Tell me what you need. Just spoke to Ronna,” Meadows wrote.
Schlapp answered back with a message indicating he was unsatisfied with McDaniel’s performance.
“Fulfill her promise to potus from beginning of week. Need it now,” Schlapp said. “And we need some senior folks. … Its outrageous it was never sent.”
Meadows, who was simultaneously communicating with McDaniel, assured Schlapp he would have the resources he required.
“Just get me the budget. You figure out what you need and be prepared to hire them,” Meadows said.
The exchange between Schlapp and Meadows has not previously been published. Schlapp did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.
As Meadows sought to soothe Schlapp, McDaniel sent a message to Meadows, Stepien, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law. She suggested the group should “connect tomorrow on some budget issues out folks in the field keep raising” and proposed meeting the following morning. Meadows agreed. After setting up that conversation, McDaniel texted Meadows, Schlapp, and Adam Laxalt, the former Nevada attorney general who chaired Trump’s campaign in that state. McDaniel indicated she had delivered on all of the pairs’ requests for funding related to the election challenge.
“Matt, Adam, if there is something you need please let me know. Adam sent a budget we approved this week. Have not heard of any other needs or requests. Thanks Ronna,” McDaniel wrote.
Meadows did not identify the names of his correspondents in the text message data he turned over to the committee. Laxalt’s phone number was identified as belonging to a family member of his, though the content of the messages, which include his first name, seems to make clear he was personally participating in the conversations. He did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.
After McDaniel’s message describing her willingness to fulfill budget requests, Laxalt sent a response suggesting that he did not receive funding for the Trump campaign’s Nevada “EDO,” which was short for “Election Day Operation ARMY.”
“The money for EDO never hit,” Laxalt wrote.
The conversation between McDaniel, Laxalt, and Schlapp, which has not previously been published, continued with the RNC chairwoman indicating she would send a wire transfer the following week. All of these messages, when coupled with the contents of the indictment, make clear that McDaniel was involved in multiple elements of the “scheme” detailed by Smith, including the dissemination of false claims about the election results, the fake elector plot, and the work being done on the ground in multiple key states. The text messages indicate that McDaniel continued working with Meadows and Trump on the election fight over the ensuing weeks.
Ward also did not give up the fight. On the morning of Nov. 14, she wrote Meadows and indicated she was working with Giuliani on the election challenge in Arizona.
“I’m in touch with Rudy and have given his team a lot of info. I’m trying to make our BOS see the light – that the only way a paper back up protects us is if someone looks at the paper!” Ward wrote.
Ward followed that up by texting Meadows along with Ducey, Arizona’s governor.
“This has to be investigated,” Ward wrote.
The messages Meadows provided to the committee do not contain any response from the governor. Ward did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story including a phone call that was answered with a voicemail message.
“Sorry you missed me,” Ward said. “I’m out enjoying my freedom.”