According to contemporaneous Justice Department notes taken during the end of Donald Trump’s time in office, the then-president directly and repeatedly berated his top federal law enforcers to back his election-fraud lies. But when they wouldn’t support his anti-democratic crusade, Trump resorted to accusing his senior DOJ officials of not being as extremely online as he was.
For starters, he was chastising them for not reading enough of The Gateway Pundit.
“You guys may not be following the internet the way I do,” then-President Trump told acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue during a Dec. 27 phone conversation, according to the recently released DOJ documents.
During Trump and Republicans’ months-long, and at times deadly, blitz to nullify President Joe Biden’s decisive victory in the 2020 election, the 45th U.S. president and his allies consumed and regurgitated a lot of garbage information and unhinged conspiracy theories from “the internet.” And one of the websites Trump was specifically citing was the ultra-right-wing and habitually wrong Gateway Pundit; the president was known to sometimes brandish printed pages of the website around the West Wing after the 2020 election.
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The Gateway Pundit’s small role in Trump’s endeavor to weaponize the DOJ against the American electoral process underscores just how easily a discredited far-right media site established a pipeline to the decision-making of the then most powerful person on Earth. It also shows how this one website—founded by a guy repeatedly dubbed the “dumbest man on the internet”—managed to play a part in fueling the efforts that brought the country to the brink of democratic rupture.
According to a former senior Trump White House official and another person with direct knowledge of the matter, during the final weeks of his presidency, administration officials saw Trump on multiple occasions holding printed-out pages of Gateway Pundit articles in the White House, sometimes in the Oval Office. The former senior official recalled one instance when Trump handed them a page printed from the website, which nonsensically alleged massive pro-Biden fraud, and told the official to find out more and to do something about it.
“I didn’t really do anything about it,” the ex-official told The Daily Beast. “I think I threw it out. Maybe I recycled it.”
In those closing months of the Trump administration, high-ranking officials were used to receiving dubious materials, sometimes ones personally briefed to Trump himself, that they then often discarded or ignored entirely. In January, for instance, Trump’s friend and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell met with the outgoing president in the Oval Office to show him six pages of baseless conspiracy theories about China and other foreign governments rigging the election for Biden.
At the time, Lindell told The Daily Beast that he also attempted to share the documents with other senior White House staff, who quickly dismissed the theories and barred him from seeing Trump again that day. But during his brief meeting with Trump in the Oval, Lindell said he told the then-president that these documents were “all over the internet.”
But other members of Trump’s inner circle were more obliging about leveraging the machinery of government to pursue bizarre, internet-driven conspiracy theories that had drifted into Trump’s field of view. In one notorious incident, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows asked the Justice Department to follow up on “Italygate,” a sci-fi conspiracy theory ginned up by Trump supporters that posited Italian military satellites had been used to somehow switch votes on American voting machines.
The Gateway Pundit, for its part, was another part of how Trump was “following the internet” in the days before a DOJ official jotted down the notes about his conversations with the Commander in Chief. Just a week before that phone call, Trump was absorbing election coverage by The Gateway Pundit, and promoting it to his millions of followers.
One piece amplified by Trump in late December falsely claimed that supposed statistical anomalies in the counting of votes in Arizona represented proof of election fraud. The same argument garnered a Trump tweet when The Gateway Pundit used the wrong total for voter participation nationwide in the 2020 election to claim that Biden and Trump’s vote totals were impossibly high.
The site has routinely been cited and sued as a source of misinformation across a range of topics. Twitter suspended the outlet’s account and that of its founder, Jim Hoft, for spreading election misinformation in February. In November 2019, Wikipedia included the site in its list of untrustworthy sources which editors should not rely on. The site is notorious for falsely blaming Democrats or Trump critics for breaking acts of mass violence, as it did during a shooting at a Jacksonville, Florida video game tournament and at the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist rally. The latter earned Hoft a lawsuit when his site falsely claimed that a State Department diplomat “staged” an attack on anti-racist protesters. The suit remains ongoing.
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the site was particularly close to the Trump campaign’s legal team as it attempted to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. In early December 2020, The Gateway Pundit published a conspiracy-laden internal report from the Trump campaign’s legal team falsely casting Dominion Voting Systems as a suspicious company with ties to Venezuela. The report was sent to the Trump legal team by an aide to Trump’s then-top trade adviser Peter Navarro, former Trump legal-team adviser Bernard Kerik told The Daily Beast in March.