Sen. Mike Lee spoke briefly on Saturday about text messages that suggest he was a player in a plot to help former President Donald Trump overturn his 2020 election loss. It was the first time Lee has spoken publicly to a gaggle of reporters about the messages, which were first published by CNN.
After securing an overwhelming victory at the Utah Republican Convention on Saturday, Lee briefly met with local media. Each outlet was allowed to ask one question, with no follow-up questions allowed.
Lee had initially refused to answer questions about the text messages. When the senator did break his silence to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ owned Deseret News, Lee claimed he was not doing the bidding of the White House, despite messages to former chief of staff Mark mea pleading for directions on what he should be saying publicly.
On Saturday, Lee said he urged the White House to exhaust every legal means at its disposal.
“I knew what a disaster Joe Biden would be,” Lee said to reporters on Saturday when he was asked about the texts. He added he encouraged the Trump campaign to pursue whatever recounts or audits were available — which is reflected in the text messages.
“I encouraged the Trump campaign, and the president himself, to acknowledge that he’d accept whatever the outcome of the Electoral College was,” Lee said.
Nowhere in the published text messages does Lee urge Trump or his campaign to accept the outcome of the Electoral College vote. He does warn Meadows that a scheme to have states send alternate slates of electors could backfire on Trump “unless we have the Constitution on our side.”
On Saturday, Lee again claimed rumors about alternate slates of electors had resurfaced, prompting him to investigate whether that was the case.
“It turns out there was no state legislature that was even close to making that decision. I never advocated for it. I just asked questions to find out whether they were doing it,” Lee said.
The text messages seem to suggest otherwise.
On Jan. 3, Lee warned Meadows that the attempt to reject electoral college votes was doomed to fail unless states sent alternate slates of electors.
“Unless these states submit new slates of Trump electors pursuant to state law, we do not,” Lee wrote.
The next day, Lee told Meadows he was spending “14 hours a day” calling state legislators, “trying to figure out a path that I can persuasively defend.”
“We need something from state legislatures to make this legitimate and to have any hope of winning,” Lee texted.
Asked Saturday what he meant by that comment, Lee suggested it was nothing more than idle chatter between friends.
“Mark Meadows is a friend of mine. He and I talk all the time,” Lee said, adding that he and the former White House chief of staff have had phone and text conversations.
“My point was unless we have that, unless President Trump had a slate of electors, unless there wasn’t any ambiguity as to what a state’s slate of electors was, there’s no role for Congress than to open and to count. There wasn’t, and so that’s why I voted to certify the election,” Lee said.
The final few published messages between Lee and Meadows give the impression Lee was working in tandem with Meadows on the alternate electors’ plan rather than investigating rumors.
”Even if they (state legislatures) can’t convene, it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote. And I’ve been working on doing that all day today,” Lee wrote.
“I told him (Trump) you and I have been working it hard on his behalf,” Meadows replied.
Testimony from Meadows’ aide Cassidy Hutchinson contained in a 248-page court filing from the U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating Jan. 6 raises further questions about Lee’s interactions with Meadows following the 2020 election, according to documents from The New York Times. Hutchinson says the White House Counsel’s Office repeatedly warned the plan to use alternate electors was not legally sound. She said those warnings came in early- to mid-December or the end of November.
At first, Lee claimed he did not learn of John Eastman’s plan involving the alternate slates of electors until Jan. 2, 2021. But, Lee brought up Eastman’s “approach” to challenging the election more than a month earlier and specifically mentioned alternate slates of electors on Dec. 8. That fits into the timeline proffered by Hutchinson’s testimony on when the White House knew of the proposed plan.
Sen. Lee’s office did not respond to questions about whether Lee was informed of the White House Counsel’s opinion.