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After Jan. 6, Trump allies received a bizarre memo about the NSA

There were some weird anti-election memos circulating after Donald Trump's defeat, but only one referenced using NSA data to look for foreign interference.

After Donald Trump's defeat, there were an enormous number of meetings among those who were eager to overturn the election results. The Washington Post reported today on one I hadn't heard about before this morning.

On Jan. 4 — two days, of course, before the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol — a group assembled in a conference room at the Trump International Hotel, just a few blocks from the White House. The gathering was organized by MyPillow CEO executive Mike Lindell, who's become a notorious figure in peddling bizarre theories about the 2020 election.

The attendance list featured quite a motley crew of figures from the then-president's orbit. Michael Flynn was reportedly involved in the gathering, and lawyer Sidney Powell was there. Former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who's played a strange role in the larger drama, was also on hand.

They were joined by some Republican senators. North Dakota's Kevin Cramer and Wyoming's Cynthia Lummis were among the attendees, and Wisconsin's Ron Johnson was there via videoconference.

Evidently, the GOP lawmakers were unmoved by the presentations. "Honestly, I was not impressed by these people," Cramer, a friend of the pillow guy, told the newspaper. Two days after the meeting, Cramer and Johnson voted to certify President Joe Biden's victory, and while Lummis did not, she said her decision wasn't based on what she saw at the Jan. 4 gathering.

The fact that sitting senators attended such a meeting is discouraging. After all, one would like to think powerful policymakers would steer clear of crackpot nonsense. But just as notable is the memo these Republicans received. From the Post's report:

The memo used the banal language of government bureaucracy, but the proposal it advocated was extreme: President Donald Trump should invoke the extraordinary powers of the National Security Agency and Defense Department to sift through raw electronic communications in an attempt to show that foreign powers had intervened in the 2020 election to help Joe Biden win.

The memo was dated Dec. 18, 2020, though it was apparently circulated among Republicans, including the senators, after the Jan. 4 meeting.

The reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, conceded that the provenance of the document remains "murky," but its authors nevertheless suggested that there was foreign interference in the election. Proof of the interference, by way of the NSA and the Pentagon, would "support next steps to defend the Constitution in a manner superior to current civilian-only judicial remedies."

I haven't the foggiest idea why the conspiracy theorists believed there was foreign interference, but let's note for context that the memo appears to have been written in the weeks following an utterly bonkers press conference in which Trump's lawyers made related allegations. Indeed, the Republican attorneys concocted a hysterical tale involving George Soros, "communist money," the Clinton Foundation, Venezuela, antifa, Cuba, and possibly China. All of this also had something to do with Hugo Chavez, who'd been dead for several years.

Nevertheless, the memo, which the senators confirmed having received a copy of, sketched out an outlandish plan in which the then-president would appoint a team of allies to use NSA data to bolster the conspiracy theories. The purported team apparently would've included a failed Republican congressional candidate named Michael Del Rosso, who shared the document with Cramer.

To be sure, this is hardly the only ridiculous document to emerge from these folks — we recently learned of a draft executive order from December 2020 in which Trump would've authorized the secretary of defense to send National Guard troops to seize voting machines — but the Post went on to note just how nutty the NSA-related memo is:

[T]he proposal to seize and analyze "NSA unprocessed raw signals data" on behalf of Trump's electoral ambitions raises particular legal and ethical concerns and distinguishes the new memo from other attempts that have come to light. The NSA collects a broad range of electronic data, including text messages, phone calls, emails, social media posts and satellite communications. By law, the NSA cannot target a U.S. person's communications without a court order.

It's worth emphasizing that the memo was not just some random fantasy from a zealous Trump fan. According to the article, the document specifically made the case that the then-president could exploit "a classified presidential directive for offensive cyber operations" in order to examine NSA intelligence. That's not the sort of thing a random person would likely reference. (The same directive was referenced in the draft executive order on voting machines.)

What's more, we apparently weren't supposed to learn about any of this: The memo included a notation that read, "Proprietary and privileged — dispose via shreding [sic]."

If you're thinking all of this will probably be of interest to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, you're not alone.

Update: This piece has been edited slightly for clarity.