Sen. Mike Lee spent the weekend aggressively pushing conspiracy theories and misinformation about the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Utah Republican, who was involved in Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, endorsed debunked claims that federal agents were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.
On Friday, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said he intended to release all 44,000 hours of security camera footage from Jan. 6, 2021. He initially made 90 hours of video available. Lee quickly jumped on the newly public material, suggesting the House January 6 Committee intentionally withheld it.
“Why didn’t Liz Cheney and Adam Kizinger (sic) ever refer to any of these tapes?” Lee wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Maybe they were just too busy selectively leaking the text messages of Republicans they wanted to defeat.”
Text messages between Lee and former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows showed Lee was advising and assisting Trump’s efforts in the days and months after Trump’s loss in 2020.
“Please tell me what I should be saying,” Lee texted Meadows, offering help in the days after Trump’s loss. He also pushed Meadows to help lawyer Sidney Powell gain access to Trump. In October, Powell took a plea deal in a Georgia racketeering case that resulted from the scheme to keep Trump in power.
Lee also latched on to unfounded conspiracy theories that federal agents or informants were part of the mob of Trump supporters who overran the Capitol on Jan. 6, tangling with former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., along the way.
When Cheney, who led the House January 6 Committee, posted a video clip of police officers being assaulted by rioters outside of the Capitol, Lee responded by accusing the committee of deliberately withholding footage from inside the Capitol.
“How many of these guys are feds? (As if you’d ever tell us),” Lee posted.
“Hey @BasedMikeLee — heads up. A nutball conspiracy theorist appears to be posting from your account,” Cheney shot back.
“Shouldn’t the J6 committee have been demanding answers to this question?” Lee responded.
Cheney then scolded Lee for making bad-faith arguments about the attack on the Capitol.
“You’re a lawyer, Mike. You’re capable of understanding the scores of J6 verdicts and rulings in our federal courts,” Cheney posted. “You didn’t object to electors on J6 because you knew what Trump was doing was unconstitutional & you know what you’re doing now is wrong.”
In an Orwellian twist, Lee also called for an investigation into the House January 6 Committee, which was echoed by far-right Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Lee also picked up on a post from former West Virginia legislator Derrick Evans featuring a photo of a Trump supporter inside the Capitol holding an object in his hand.
“Is this person flashing a badge?” Evans, who pleaded guilty to a felony for livestreaming himself storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, posted. “If so, this would prove there were undercover federal agents disguised as MAGA.”
“I can’t wait to ask FBI Director Christopher Wray about this at our next oversight hearing,” Lee said in response. “I predict that, as always, his answers will be 97% information-free.”
Unfortunately for Lee, reporters quickly pointed out that the person in the photo was Kevin Lyons, a Trump supporter who was sentenced to prison for his role in the riot. The object in Lyons’ hand is not a badge but a vape he was seen carrying earlier in the day.
Lee’s office did not respond to questions from The Salt Lake Tribune about whether he intended to ask Wray about Lyons’ vape. Nor did it respond to questions about why Lee speculated that federal agents were involved in the Jan. 6 riot and whether he had evidence to support that claim.
In a statement to NBC News, Lee spokesperson Billy Gribbin did not answer questions about Lee’s false claim.
“Senator Lee would like Director Wray to answer important questions regarding the uncuffed rioter fist-bumping Capitol police inside the building, the unidentified pipe bomber, and other individuals about whom the FBI and fraudulent January 6th Committee have shown a surprising lack of interest,” Gribbin said.
The “uncuffed rioter fist-bumping Capitol police” Gribbin is referring to has been identified as Jared Luther Owens, who allegedly assaulted police officers outside of the Capitol with a barricade during the attack. Owens was arrested but released from custody because police did not have the resources to handle the large number of rioters. Owens was charged last month in connection with the assault.
Conservative commentator Charlie Sykes took note of Lee’s “descent into conspiracism.”
“Somewhere in the mists of the Before Times, Mike Lee was a simulacrum of a serious conservative,” Sykes wrote Monday. “But there is no longer any incentive to try to sound like William F. Buckley Jr., so Lee has decided to follow ElonAlexJonesTuckerMTGTrump into the feculent bog of conspiracism.”
Andrew Egger, editor of the conservative website The Dispatch, was also perplexed by Lee’s sophistry.
“Hard to think of a worse heel turn in all of politics than Mike Lee suddenly realizing getting ‘based’ was the way to the heart of the world’s dumbest people and becoming a willing accessory to whitewashing January 6,” Eggers wrote.
Arizona’s false electors
While Lee’s weekend social media frenzy was focused on minimizing the Jan. 6 attack, there’s a new connection to his post-election efforts on behalf of Trump and several Republicans who plotted to become false electors from Arizona.
Lee was a crucial player in a dubious legal strategy to have Republican-controlled legislatures in some states won by Joe Biden in 2020 submit alternate slates of electors to Congress. The scheme aimed to have then-Vice President Mike Pence throw out both slates of electors from those states, which would either delay the certification of Biden’s win or throw the election to the U.S. House.
Ultimately, Republicans in six states attempted to submit fraudulent electors to Congress. Some who signed on to the scheme face criminal charges in Georgia and Michigan. In recent months, the attorneys general of Arizona and Nevada opened investigations into the alternate electors in those states.
In the months after the Jan. 6 riot, Lee received campaign donations from three Arizona Republicans who signed documents falsely claiming Trump won the 2020 election in that state.
James Lamon, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2022, donated $8,700 to Lee’s campaign in January and March of 2021. Lamon is the former CEO of DEPCOM, a solar power company. Lamon also donated $15,000 to Lee’s leadership political action committee in January 2022.
Arizona state legislator Jake Hoffman contributed $1,200 to Lee in June 2021. Hoffman gained attention ahead of the 2020 election when Facebook banned his digital marketing firm for running a “troll farm” on behalf of the conservative advocacy group Turning Point Action, the political arm of Turning Point USA. Hoffman’s company’s effort was described as “among the most ambitious domestic influence campaigns” uncovered during the 2020 election.
Lee also received a $1,000 donation from Tyler Bowyer, the chief operating officer of Turning Point USA, that same month.
Lee’s office did not respond to questions from The Tribune about those donations.
The House January 6 Committee report concluded Lee “spent a month encouraging the idea of having state legislators endorse competing efforts for Trump.” In his text messages to Meadows, Lee said he was “spending 14 hours a day” contacting state legislators about the plan.