Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
That’s how Richard Donoghue, the principal associate deputy attorney general, reacted to an email forwarded to him from Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that contained a YouTube link alleging broad-scale election tampering via Italian satellites.
Yes, you read that right. Less than a month before Donald Trump would hand off the presidency to Joe Biden, his chief of staff was sending links to senior officials in the Department of Justice that claimed the 2020 election had been stolen by the Italians.
While we’ve know about “Italygate” for a while now, the newly released DOJ emails provide more depth and breadth to the extent senior members of the Trump administration were willing to go to overturn the election results.
Let’s start by explaining the roots of “Italygate.”
The conspiracy theory — like all conspiracy theories — is tough to track to its roots. The main name that regularly pops up is Brad Johnson, who, according to his LinkedIn page, served as senior operations officer and chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Operations and is now the president of a group called Americans for Intelligence Reform. (The group’s extremely rudimentary website appears to be a landing page for a variety of conspiracy theories — and theorists.)
In a video posted to YouTube — but subsequently removed by the site for violating its community rules — Johnson details a wide-ranging conspiracy to tip the vote to Biden. Here are the allegations, according to a USA Today transcription of the Johnson video:
“The U.S. elections were changed, the results were changed in those five or six key states, then all of those voting machines were hooked up to the internet. The internet then was used to download that information to these famous servers in Germany.”
“So from there, those were uploaded and sent to Rome, and this is where this took place. Once they created all the new data and manipulated all the data that was there, they sent these new numbers back up through this military satellite (…) and back down to all the machines here in the United States in those five or six states.”
Uh, OK. There’s also this: Maria Strollo Zack, founder of the group Nations in Action, which is working to draw attention to Italygate, claims to have delivered an affidavit to the “top lawyer of Italy” and to Congress (not clear to whom) claiming that she knew the person who “uploaded the software” (she didn’t explain further).
At core, as best as I can tell, these conspiracy theorists are saying that an Italian satellite was given instructions — by an Italian company called Leonardo — to flip votes from Trump to Biden in key swing states. And no, I am not kidding. That’s the theory. (You can watch Zack, uh, explain the whole thing in this wild 30-minute video.)
This would all be sort of funny in a holy-cow-can-you-believe-people-think-like-this way if this INSANE theory didn’t reach the highest level of government. Remember the President’s chief of staff sent this note to the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, who then sent it on to Donoghue.
And that’s not all! As Rosen notes in response to Donoghue’s “pure insanity” comment:
“Yes. After this message, I was asked to have the FBI meet with Brad Johnson, and I responded that Brad Johnson could call or walk into the FBI’s Washington Field Office with any evidence he purports to have. On a follow up call, I learned that Johnson is working with Rudy Giuliani, who regarded my comments as ‘an insult.’ Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses,’ and re-affirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this.”
Which is an amazing own of Giuliani by Rosen. But that’s sort of beside the point, which is this: Trump’s chief of staff and personal lawyer/longtime ally and friend were not only pushing this garbage, but were also leaning on the freaking Department of Justice to look into it!
And just as a reminder, the “it” I am talking about is that some software uploaded by an Italian defense contractor to, er, satellites, was able to change votes in swing states in the 2020 election from Trump to Biden.
These emails about Italygate prove that the corrosion went all the way to the top of the Trump administration, as sycophants who worked for the President desperately trying to stay in his good graces pushed official organs of the government to look into utter insanity. And all of these same people remain close to Trump, who, not for nothing, is the clear front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination if he wants it.
Like I said above: It would all be funny if it wasn’t so damn serious.