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Texts reveal how Sen. Mike Lee explored ideas to overturn 2020 presidential election

In the weeks between the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, almost 100 text messages from two staunch GOP allies of then-President Donald Trump — including Utah Sen. Mike Lee — reveal an aggressive attempt to lobby, encourage and eventually warn the White House over its efforts to overturn the election.

In the weeks between the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, almost 100 text messages from two staunch GOP allies of then-President Donald Trump — including Utah Sen. Mike Lee — reveal an aggressive attempt to lobby, encourage and eventually warn the White House over its efforts to overturn the election. (Tasos Katopodis, Getty Images)


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WASHINGTON —Newly revealed text messages between Sen. Mike Lee and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows show how far the Utah Republican went in exploring avenues for the Trump administration to overturn the 2020 presidential election before ultimately deciding they were dead ends.

CNN first reported Friday on the almost 100 text messages Lee and Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, sent to Meadows lobbying, encouraging and eventually warning the White House over its efforts to overturn the election. The news outlet reviewed the messages that were obtained by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The text exchanges show how Lee and Roy initially supported legal challenges to the election but ultimately came to sour on the effort and the tactics deployed by former President Donald Trump and his team.

Meantime, Lee's opponents in the Senate race pounced on the text messages Friday, blasting the two-term senator over his efforts to help Trump.

In a series of texts to Meadows on Nov. 7, Lee offered his "unequivocal support for you to exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy at your disposal to restore Americans faith in our elections."

"This fight is about the fundamental fairness and integrity of our election system. The nation is depending upon your continued resolve. Stay strong and keep fighting Mr. President."

Also on Nov. 7, Roy wrote to Meadows, "We need ammo. We need fraud examples. We need it this weekend."

The entire series of text messages from Lee and Roy to Meadows is posted on CNN.

Lee spokesman Lee Lonsberry told CNN that the senator has been "fully transparent" about his involvement, noting how Lee had called for an investigation into claims of fraud in the 2020 election but ultimately recognized Joe Biden as president-elect and voted to certify the electoral results on Jan. 6, 202.

"The text messages tell the same story Sen. Lee told from the floor of the Senate the day he voted to certify the election results of each and every state in the nation," Lonsberry said in a statement to the Deseret News. "They tell the story of a U.S. senator fulfilling his duty to Utah and the American people by following the Constitution."

Lonsberry also pointed to a speech Lee gave on the Senate floor where he said he concluded Congress' only role in the presidential election is to open and count states' electoral votes.

But before Lee reached that conclusion, the text messages, covering a period from Nov. 7, 2020, to Jan. 4, 2021, reveal his efforts to encourage the White House to pursue legal remedies and strategies for states to submit competing slates of electors, which could swing the election results Trump's way.

"Sydney Powell is saying that she needs to get in to see the president, but she's being kept away from him. Apparently she has a strategy to keep things alive and put several states back in play. Can you help her get in?" Lee texted Meadows on Nov. 7.

Powell, an attorney who has been described as a conspiracy theorist, tried to help Trump overturn the election.

In a Nov. 9 text, Lee calls her a "straight shooter."

Lee apparently later soured on Powell's efforts, texting Meadows, "Unless Powell can immediately substantiate what she said today, the president should probably disassociate himself and refute any claims that can't be substantiated."

The senator then turned his attention to John Eastman, a conservative law professor who claimed in a confidential memo that then-Vice President Mike Pence could hand the election to Trump because seven states had submitted dueling slates of electors to Congress.

"John Eastman has some really interesting research on this. The good news is is that Eastman is proposing an approach that unlike what Sidney Powell has propose could be examined very quickly," Lee wrote Meadows on Nov. 23.

Lee then started his own investigation into the claim that seven states were switching their electoral votes for Biden to Trump.

"If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path," Lee told Meadows.

Lee started calling state officials in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, all swing states that Trump lost.

He said he found in conversations with governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state and legislative leaders in those states that not one was willing or inclined to decertify or recertify their electoral votes.

By Jan. 3, Lee was texting Meadows that the effort "could all backfire badly."

"I'd love to be proven wrong about my concerns. But I really think this could all backfire badly unless we have legislatures submitting trump slates (based on a conclusion that this was the proper result under state law). Even setting aside constitutional concerns, this will be harmful to the president if we don't channel this effort properly. We simply have no authority to reject a state's certified electoral votes in the absence of a dueling slates, with the Trump slate coming from a state legislative determination," Lee wrote to Meadows.

Lee, who was recently endorsed by Trump for reelection, told Meadows on Jan. 3 that he didn't think Trump was grasping the distinction between what Congress can do and what he wants it to do.

"Nor do I think he's grasping the distinction between what certain members are saying that sound like they could help him, but would really hurt him. He's got a very real opportunity for a win in 2024. That opportunity could be harmed in multiple ways this effort."

On Jan. 4, Trump publicly expressed his displeasure that Lee had determined that Congress had no power to overturn the election results.

"I've been spending 14 hours a day for the last week trying to unravel this for him. To have him take a shot at me like that in such a public setting without even asking me about it is pretty discouraging," Lee texted Meadows.

Meadows apologized to Lee and said Trump would call him.

"I'm trying to figure out a path that I can persuasively defend, and this won't make it any easier, especially if others now think I'm doing this because he went after me," Lee texted. "This just makes it a lot more complicated. And it was complicated already."

Lee told Meadows that his credibility to help Trump was now impaired.

"So very sorry," Meadows texted Lee on Jan. 4. "I told him that you and I have been working it hard on his behalf."

On Jan. 6, 2021, an angry, pro-Trump mobb stormed the Capitol as lawmakers counted the electoral votes, forcing lawmakers to run for cover before returning later to certify Biden as the winner.

Lee's political opponents in the upcoming election jumped on the text messages, questioning his commitment to protecting democracy.

"Sen. Mike Lee researched overturning a lawful, democratic election for partisan and political gain. The moment Lee realized the gravity of Trump's attempts to undermine the 2020 election, he should have stopped researching the legality of such actions and stopped pressuring local legislators," Republican challenger Becky Edwards said in a statement.

Edward said Lee has an obligation to protect and defend the Constitution and democratic process.

"Instead, he allowed the situation to continue and enabled those seeking to keep themselves in power, no matter the consequences," she said.

Edwards and Ally Isom, another Republican challenger, have already qualified for a primary election, as has Lee, through gathering voter signatures in Utah's dual nomination system.

"When a sitting U.S. senator asks what he should say, he is freely admitting he is more concerned with playing D.C. games — with the politics of politics — rather than the people of Utah," Isom said in a statement, referring to a Nov. 20 text from Lee to Meadows.

"Please give me something to work with," Lee wrote to Meadows in that text. "I just need to know what I should be saying."

Isom said Utah wants a senator to fight for the state — "someone who refuses to be just another chess piece the Washington, D.C., apparatus can push around."

"When you stay too long, Washington becomes corrosive, corrupt and dishonest. You start worrying too much about what the wrong people think. Career politicians say anything to stay even longer. As he campaigns for a third term, Mike Lee is no longer a credible voice to represent Utah," she said.

Former Utah Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams called Lee the "ringleader in a vicious conspiracy that left the Constitution hanging by a thread."

McAdams, who is backing independent Evan McMullin in the race against Lee, said in a tweet that Lee's efforts to undermine democracy will "go down as a dark stain in Utah political history."

McMullin, who has hammered Lee over efforts to help Trump stay in office, tweeted that Lee needs to come clean on his involvement. "He has no place in the U.S. Senate," he said.

There's still much to know about Lee's role, "but this we already know: A U.S. Senator — especially one from Utah — should defend our Constitution and our freedoms, not use his position to sneakily pursue ways to destroy them," McMullin said.

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Utah congressional delegationUtah electionsU.S. electionsJan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrectionUtahPolitics
Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.

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