WASHINGTON — Mick Mulvaney, once the Trump White House acting chief of staff, was getting frustrated.
It was the week following the 2020 presidential election and, on a phone call with Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and others, she “casually mentioned that we had lost Arizona,” he recalled in an interview Friday with NBC News.
That was "shocking" to him, he said, because after studying Arizona voting patterns he’d gone on television to assert that then-President Donald Trump still had a shot at winning the closely-contested swing state. Now he was learning Trumpworld believed Arizona was lost.
“I was concerned that I was saying one thing, while the campaign was saying something else,” Mulvaney said.
So, he sent a text message to McDaniel and others in the Trump campaign asking them for guidance.
“I’m getting this sinking feeling that everyone other than me thinks we have lost this election,” reads the text, which was reviewed by NBC News. “I am out there telling everyone we haven’t. If people know something I do not, I would appreciate it if you would let me know. It is better for me not to do TV, and to keep my mouth shut, than to do TV and say we have a chance when the people in the know know that we do not.”
Mulvaney was asked about the text message during his closed-door appearance Thursday before the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. He said he hadn’t given it to the committee; they had gotten hold of it elsewhere. One of the committee’s key findings is that people surrounding Trump knew he had lost and told him so, yet he continued to insist that he had won and pressed to remain in office. Trump’s position is that the election was rife with fraud and that his victory was stolen. Recounts and court cases have failed to substantiate those claims.
Mulvaney said he did not get a reply to his text. The election was Nov. 3, and NBC News, The Associated Press and others called President Joe Biden’s victory on Nov. 7.
By that late point in Trump’s term, he was special envoy to Northern Ireland, having been replaced as chief of staff eight months earlier by Mark Meadows. Mulvaney said he copied the text to Meadows, but also did not get a response.
“So, as you can imagine, this was of interest to the committee because it goes to that whole issue of who knew that the election was lost and what they were telling people publicly versus what did they know privately,” Mulvaney said.
The RNC, and a lawyer for Meadows, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his approximately two-hour appearance before House investigators, Mulvaney said the committee also asked him about the workings of the West Wing. Specifically, they wanted to know how people got in to see the president. He surmised that the panel wanted more detail about how it was that people pushing the idea of widespread election fraud got in earshot of Trump.
“They were asking specifically how hard it was to keep people out,” Mulvaney said. “And the answer that I gave them is it was very difficult to keep people out.”
Instead, Mulvaney said it was his practice as chief of staff to give Trump a balanced perspective: If the president were meeting with people who held a certain point of view, Mulvaney would try to ensure he also heard from others who held a different position.
Mulvaney said he spoke to his family after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, including his children who were home from college. “I told them how awful it was and they asked me what I could do,” he said. That night, he called Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and resigned.
“I can’t do it; I can’t stay,” he said in an interview with CNBC the next day.