Leaked text messages between Utah Sen. Mike Lee and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows suggest Lee was a participant in the plot to keep Donald Trump in office, a charge Lee vehemently disputes. Recently released court documents could prove problematic for Lee’s defense.
On Thursday, the House select committee will host its first public hearing while investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the effort to keep Donald Trump in office despite his election loss in 2020. A focus for the committee is the attempt to appoint alternate Trump electors in states carried by Biden in 2020.
[Related: Sen. Mike Lee embraces baseless claims about election fraud in the 2020 election]
Those alternate slates of electors are where Utah Sen. Mike Lee intersects with the investigation. His text messages with Meadows make repeated references to alternate electors in the run-up to Jan. 6.
Lee has repeatedly claimed he was investigating “rumors” that states were considering appointing Trump electors, which could throw the certification of the election into doubt. Lee reiterated that claim last week during a GOP-sponsored U.S. Senate primary debate.
“There were rumors following the 2020 presidential election that there were multiple states thinking about correcting alleged errors in their own state’s electoral count. It was causing them to consider withdrawing their electoral votes and submitting new ones. I made calls to investigate the accuracy of these claims,” Lee said.
Lee says his vote to certify Biden’s victory vindicates him.
New court filings
Recently filed court papers from the Jan. 6 select committee contain an email from John Eastman, who was guiding Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, that cast some doubt on Lee’s explanation. Eastman was trying to shield 159 emails from the committee but was ordered by a federal judge to turn over those documents on Tuesday.
On December 8, Lee texted Meadows, “If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path.”
The court filing includes a December 19, 2020, email from Eastman where he says any alternate electors must be certified by state legislatures.
“Unless those electors get a certification from their State Legislators, they will be dead on arrival in Congress,” Eastman wrote.
Eastman was responding to a suggestion that Trump could declare martial law and force a re-vote overseen by the military.
“No to martial law. I will not be associated with any such effort,” Eastman wrote.
Eastman vs. Thompson, exhibit D by The Salt Lake Tribune on Scribd
If states had sent competing slates of electors to Congress, Eastman’s scheme alleged that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to determine which slates would count. Or, as Eastman claimed, Pence could throw out all electoral votes from that state, which could throw the election to the House of Representatives or delay the certification to give state legislators more time to act.
On Jan. 3, 2021, Lee texted Meadows several times, stressing the need for action by state legislators.
“Everything changes, of course, if the swing states submit competing slates of electors pursuant to state law,” Lee wrote in one message.
“Again, all of this could change if the states in question certified Trump electors pursuant to state law,” Lee texted later.
The next day, Lee texted Meadows, claiming he was “spending 14 hours a day” working on electoral objections.
“I’ve been calling state legislators for hours today and am going to spend hours doing the same tomorrow. I’m trying to figure out a path I can persuasively defend...We need something from state legislatures to make this legitimate and to have any hope of winning. Even if they can’t convene, it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote,” Lee said.
Lee’s explanations for his apparent involvement in the plot to keep Trump in office have shifted several times.
Last fall, reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa revealed in their book “Peril” that Eastman sent Lee a memo detailing his theory that Pence could set aside the Electoral College results. Lee claimed he was “surprised” by the memo and made “phone call after phone call” to determine if states had appointed any alternate slates of electors. Finding none, he ultimately voted to certify Biden’s win on Jan. 6.
In an interview with National Review, Eastman was asked about his discussions with Lee regarding that memo. At first, Eastman said he “never had any dealings with Mike Lee about this at all.” After he was confronted with a passage in the book describing how he told Lee in December about the forthcoming memo, Eastman changed his story.
Eastman later said he was working with Lee on “broader things” but did not explain.
In March, a court filing from the select committee included the transcript of an interview with Eastman. He did not answer questions and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, including when asked about his communications with Lee.
When his text messages with Meadows were first published, Lee initially refused to answer questions. He then claimed in an interview he was not doing the bidding of the White House, despite his pleading with Meadows for directions on messaging following Trump’s loss.
A few days after that, Lee said he encouraged the Trump campaign to pursue any legal means necessary following the loss but accept the eventual outcome.
“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. That claim is not supported in any of the text messages with Meadows.
Following the leak of Lee’s text messages with Meadows, a group of police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 from a mob of Trump supporters accused Lee of voting against an investigation into the attack to cover up his involvement. Lee was one of 35 Republican senators who opposed forming a bipartisan commission to look into the Capitol riot. Last year, Lee joined a handful of Republican senators in sending a letter to the Department of Justice asking whether rioters arrested in the Jan. 6 attack were being treated more harshly than those involved in the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.
Lee’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Federal prosecutors are investigating those alternate slates of electors and interactions with Trump campaign officials. The Washington Post reported Monday that the Trump campaign told Republicans in Georgia to operate in “complete secrecy” when forming an alternate slate of Trump electors.