The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump campaign debunked Dominion conspiracy theories, internal memo shows, days before backers kept spreading them

Attorney Sidney Powell and Rudolph W. Giuliani, then President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, spread baseless accusations about election fraud during a D.C. news conference on Nov. 19, 2020. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Less than two weeks after the 2020 presidential election, the Trump campaign asked its researchers to look into conspiracy theories about rigged electronic voting machines. The researchers soon returned with an answer: a 14-page memo that refuted various claims, including that Dominion Voting Systems worked with election software maker Smartmatic and Venezuela to defeat President Donald Trump, according to records that emerged in a lawsuit this week.

Nonetheless, days after that memo was circulated, pro-Trump lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell held a news conference in Washington to publicize the same conspiracy theory about Dominion, Smartmatic and Venezuela.

First reported Tuesday by the New York Times, the documents, which were included in a defamation suit in Colorado brought by a former Dominion executive against the Trump campaign and others, reveal that as early as mid-November, staffers for the Trump campaign formally vetted and disproved key allegations that later fueled efforts to overturn President Biden’s victory.

“The memo produced by the Trump campaign shows that, at least internally, the Trump Campaign found there was no evidence to support the conspiracy theories regarding Dominion and Dr. Coomer,” lawyers for the former executive, Eric Coomer, wrote in the filing.

The Trump campaign researchers found no evidence that Dominion has direct ties to Venezuela or the far-left antifa movement or that Dominion voting machines used Smartmatic software in 2020. Their memo also rejected other claims, such as the falsehood that votes from the U.S. presidential election were counted in Barcelona.

It is unclear how far the memo circulated within the campaign, though Coomer’s lawyers wrote that it “apparently never made it to Giuliani.” It is also not clear whether Trump ever saw the memo, which compiled research from public records, court documents and news reports.

“The Trump campaign continued to allow its agents like Rudolph Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Eric Trump to advance debunked conspiracy theories and defame Dr. Coomer, apparently without providing them with their own research debunking those theories,” Coomer’s attorneys wrote.

Coomer’s lawyers declined to comment through a spokeswoman. Representatives for Giuliani and Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Powell wrote in an email to The Washington Post: “Your hit pieces are painfully obvious and precisely timed. Nothing has been ‘debunked.’ Stay tuned. The fraud becomes more apparent by the day.”

The research effort began Nov. 13, with a request from Zach Parkinson, then a deputy communications director for the Trump campaign, the records show. Parkinson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“About to send y’all a Dominion-related project we need to look at,” he wrote in an email to then-deputy research director Dean Cleary and two analysts around 5 p.m. He promised to send “specific things we need to look into and substantiate or debunk.”

Less than an hour later, Parkinson sent a list of questions, including “What is the relationship between Smartmatic and Dominion?” and “What is Smartmatic’s relationship to Venezuela and the Venezuelan government?”

“Obviously, this is some conspiratorial stuff, but we need to be thorough and track it down,” he wrote.

Hours later that night, Cleary wrote that “it is very slow and tedious learning and tracing down the claims and leads.” Parkinson encouraged him to “cut this off” at 10:30 p.m., writing that the team will have “more dead voters we’ll need to get to in the morning” — an apparent reference to checking whether deceased people had cast ballots.

Cleary sent the final document at 3:38 a.m. on Nov. 14.

“The common theme here is that Dominion and Smartmatic were only in a partnership for three years nearly a decade ago but there has been some common connections with 3rd party groups, although not at the same time,” he wrote.

“The election technology industry seems to be constantly buying and selling the same smaller firms back and forth and continuously rebranding themselves.”

The researchers noted that they could find no relationship between Dominion executives and antifa and no business relationship between the company and Venezuela. They also reported no evidence Dominion used Smartmatic technology in their voting machines in 2020, noting that the companies began a partnership in 2009 that ended in 2012 “on rocky terms.”

Five days after the memo was prepared, Giuliani and Powell held a news conference at the Republican Party’s headquarters in D.C. to advance an array of conspiracy theories, including the claims about Dominion and Venezuela.

Both Giuliani and Powell now face defamation lawsuits from Dominion and Coomer.

Stephen Speranza in Denver contributed to this report.