What we know about how Utah Republicans were engaged ahead of Jan. 6 riot

How involved were Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens and AG Sean Reyes in attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election?

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. Congress is set to hear from former security officials about what went wrong at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. That's when when a violent mob laid siege to the Capitol and interrupted the counting of electoral votes. Three of the four testifying Tuesday resigned under pressure immediately after the attack, including the former head of the Capitol Police. Much is still unknown about the attack, and lawmakers are demanding answers.

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One year ago supporters of then-outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.

As more information emerges, what happened in the days between the November election and Jan. 6 is becoming more clear. More revelations are expected as the House committee investigating the insurrection continues its work.

Here’s what we know and don’t know about how four prominent Utah Republicans — Sen. Mike Lee, Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens and Attorney General Sean Reyes — were engaged in events leading up to Jan. 6, 2021.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Sen. Mike Lee takes on one of the questions asked by Apple CEO Tim Cook during a fireside chat at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.

Sen. Mike Lee

What we know:

Sen. Mike Lee had the closest Utah connection to Trump’s allies who were seeking to overturn the election. We know he was made aware of the memo authored by lawyer John Eastman, which laid out a constitutionally dubious path for Vice President Mike Pence to hand the election to Trump.

The first mention of the memo and Lee’s connection to it came in late Sept. 2021. First published in the book “Peril” by reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, the memo claimed Pence could throw out electoral votes from states if there were competing slates of electors. According to the book, Lee was given a copy of the memo on Jan. 2, four days before Congress would meet to certify Biden’s election win. The memo claimed seven states had submitted dueling slates of electors, which was not true.

Lee did not make any mention of the Eastman memo prior to the publication of the book. He did say he made “phone call after phone call” to officials in many of those states during a Jan. 27 online town hall, but did not specifically mention the Eastman memo.

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani left a rambling voicemail on Lee’s phone intended for Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who was sworn in just days earlier. A recording of the voicemail was leaked to The Dispatch.

Trump also mistakenly called Lee’s phone thinking he was calling Tuberville as the riot unfolded at the Capitol, as reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

What we don’t know:

  • In Woodward and Costa’s book, the authors say Lee knew the gambit in Eastman’s memo “would be a deliberate warping of the Constitution.” They paint Utah’s senior senator as being torn between his constituents who were urging him to do something about the baseless claims of a stolen election and upholding the Constitution. If Lee had advance knowledge of the plan why didn’t he say more before Jan. 6?

  • Why did Lee attempt to downplay the seriousness of the attack after Jan. 6? During a February appearance on Fox News, Lee said Trump deserved a “mulligan” for urging the horde of his supporters to march on the Capitol.

Lee’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes speaks in his office about a lawsuit filed by Utah and other states against Google, Wednesday, July 7, 2021.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes

What we know:

Reyes was on board the “stop the steal” train shortly after Trump’s loss to Biden.

The Utah Attorney General visited Nevada shortly after election day to assist the Trump team’s efforts to find evidence of voter fraud. Reyes claimed he saw “evidence of voting irregularities” while he was there. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said Reyes didn’t return his phone calls or texts to discuss what Utah’s attorney general supposedly had seen.

As an alleged example of voter fraud, Republicans pointed to the case of Donald Hartle, who claimed somebody stole and cast a ballot intended for his deceased wife. After an investigation, Hartle was charged with using his wife’s ballot to vote twice. He later pleaded guilty.

In December, Reyes threw his support behind a hail Mary lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that sought to throw out the election results in four states won by Joe Biden. Earlier in the year, and about month after the Captiol attack, Reyes hosted Paxton for a visit to Utah.

In January 2021, the Rule of Law Defense Fund — the policy arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) — sent robocalls encouraging people to march to the U.S. Capitol to “stop the steal.” Reyes, who headed the RLDF until November of 2020, distanced himself from the calls and said he was not involved in organizing the Jan. 6 rally.

What we don’t know:

  • Reyes has not disclosed what alleged evidence he found in Nevada that led him to believe there was voter fraud.

Reyes’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens

What we know:

Congressmen Stewart and Owens were the only members of Utah’s delegation in Washington who voted to throw out the electoral votes from Pennsylvania. They were part of a group of 138 House Republicans who voted to challenge those election results without evidence of fraud.

In a tweet on Jan. 4, Stewart announced his intention to not certify Biden’s win citing “voting irregularities” that needed to be sorted out.

Stewart also amplified lies about election fraud prior to the Jan. 6 vote.

“If anyone says there is no evidence, that’s just absolute nonsense. There’s plenty of evidence about this,” Stewart said during a radio interview. He has not provided any evidence.

While the outcome of his hotly-contested U.S. House race against Democrat Ben McAdams was still in doubt, Owens’ campaign sent out fundraising messages claiming Democrats were attempting to “steal the election.”

When he announced he would be joining the challenge to the election results, Owens said he believed Trump, in fact, won the election.

“Absolutely. Yes, I do. There’s no question in my mind that I think he won,” Owens said.

Owens also highlighted false claims of a stolen election through his social media posts in the days leading up to and on Jan. 6. Just before the riot, the freshman congressman wrote on Twitter: “This is not about ‘overturning an election.’ This is about protecting the integrity of our elections.”

What we still don’t know:

  • What convinced Owens and Stewart to vote to reject the election results from Pennsylvania?

  • Former White House adviser Peter Navarro wrote in his book that he and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon hatched a plan called the “Green Bay Sweep,” which he says enlisted hundreds of members of Congress to reject the election results. Navarro also said he distributed information about election fraud to “every” Republican member of Congress. Did Stewart or Owens read any of this material? Were Stewart or Owens part of the Green Bay Sweep” plan?

Both Stewart and Owens did not respond to a request for comment.