Utah Sen. Mike Lee often describes his political ideology as strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution.
Transcripts, documents, text messages and the final report from the House Jan. 6th Committee show Lee actively tried to keep Donald Trump in the White House, despite Trump’s loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 election, and only abandoned the plot when it threatened to expand beyond that constitutional framework.
Text messages between Lee and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows show Lee was part of the effort to overturn Trump’s election loss starting when Biden was declared the winner on November 7, 2020.
The Jan. 6 committee has now revealed that Lee was communicating with top Trump campaign legal adviser Cleta Mitchell that same day about strategies for keeping Trump in office. Mitchell was part of the now-infamous phone call where Trump pressured Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to give him the win in that state.
“What should I be doing right now? I’m trying to find out what’s winnable and what isn’t,” Lee texted Mitchell, according to the transcript of her testimony to the House Jan. 6 committee.
“I suspect that the only way to win this election would involve identifying systemic fraud,” Lee added.
A month later, Mitchell texted Lee, telling him, “the Senate should start making plans to object” to Biden electors, using claims of a fraudulent election as their justification. Lee suggests that having state legislatures appoint alternate electors would be more fertile ground and key for getting his colleagues to sign on.
“I think that’s the best way to frame this, that our role (as to any state’s electoral votes) is triggered by the existence of a competing slate of electors? That seems to be the sweet spot for getting my colleagues to engage,” Lee wrote.
On Dec. 9, Lee reached out to Mitchell, looking for news of alternate electors.
“Is there any chance we will see competing slates of electors named in some states?” Lee asked.
Mitchell instructed Lee to reach out to Meadows, who was in charge of that part of the plan. Lee had texted Meadows the day before, suggesting if, “a very small handful of states” appointed alternate electors, “there could be a path.”
During her testimony, Mitchell was asked about an email she received from conservative activist Tom Fitton asking about alternate electors. Mitchell pinned the entire scheme on Lee.
“It wasn’t my idea. It was actually Mike Lee’s idea,” Mitchell said.
Over the next few days, Lee reportedly met with Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs and Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks to strategize about overturning Trump’s election loss. Biggs was one of a handful of members of Congress who asked Trump for a pardon for their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, the Arizona Republic reported. Brooks wore body armor when he spoke at the rally that led to a mob of Trump supporters attacking the U.S. Capitol, according to Slate.
On Dec. 14, 2020, the competing elector gambit was dealt a death blow as no Trump electors in states carried by Biden materialized. After refusing to acknowledge Biden was the winner, Lee finally relented but did not completely close the door on overturning the results.
“Absent new information that could give rise to a judicial or legislative determination altering the impact of today’s electoral-college votes, Joe Biden will become president of the United States on January 20, 2021,” Lee said in a press release.
On Dec. 30, Mitchell texted Lee asking if there was a way to hold a hearing in the Senate so that she could present what turned out to be baseless claims of election fraud.
“Is there a way the Senate can conduct a hearing to allow me to present our election contest in GA? And other lawyers re the contested states? To make a record?” Mitchell texted. “We need a day in the court of public opinion. Can we do that please?”
In the exchange, Lee agreed to approach Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to pitch him on the idea.
The idea of a public hearing was a last-ditch effort by the Trump team to give those false claims of a fraudulent election the veneer of legitimacy and hopefully convince members of Congress to object to certifying Biden’s win.
“If we could pull this off, might it obviate the need for the January 6 strategy?” Lee asked, referencing the plan for members of Congress to reject electoral votes from states won by Joe Biden.
“It is part of the strategy. To provide factual support for rejecting certain troublesome electors. That’s the point.” Mitchell replied.
Lee again told Mitchell he did not think Congress had any valid basis for objecting to electors, but he “would love to be proven wrong.” Ultimately, the Utah senator did vote to certify Biden’s electoral victory, an act he has since said vindicates his actions.
The committee’s final report says Lee “spent a month encouraging the idea of having State legislatures endorse competing electors for Trump” but backed down when it was clear Trump’s team was moving ahead with the plan to introduce fake electors on Jan. 6.
Lee’s text messages with Meadows show he was still trying to find a way to make the scheme somehow fit within the Constitution as late as Jan. 4, 2021. Lee told Meadows he was “spending 14 hours a day” on the plan, suggesting the framework of the Constitution might have some wiggle room.
“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. And I’ve been working on doing that all day today,” Lee wrote.
With the Jan. 6 deadline rapidly approaching, Chris Hodgson, an aide to then Vice President Mike Pence, revealed Lee was considering raising a “Constitutional point of order” to put the Senate into recess until a legal challenge to the election results in Georgia could be sorted out. That could delay the certification and buy some time to convince other state lawmakers to appoint alternate electors.