The House Select Committee looking into Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 coup attempt is having a hard time finding witnesses to speak to it, what with so many of Trump’s former minions taking the Fifth and ignoring subpoenas.
So now might be a good time for someone who apparently didn’t really support the rebellion, but who may have failed to raise the alarm when given advance word of the plans, to explain himself.
Someone like Utah Sen. Mike Lee.
Lee’s history with Trump is quite a story, which could make at least a day of compelling C-SPAN.
In 2016, Lee was no fan of Trump. He never did join the bandwagon as Trump cruised to the nomination and wound up casting his personal vote for independent candidate Evan McMullin. Lee led a short-lived rules revolt at the Republican National Convention which, though there was little chance it would block Trump’s nomination, sought to give Utah and other state delegations the option of being seen voting for someone else.
Four years later, Lee was a convert. He said he had come around to being a supporter of Trump’s reelection after he “took the scenic route” — an odd way of describing the process of blinding oneself to the truth about the proto-fascist then in the White House.
Apparently that abject subjugation was enough to make Trump think Lee might be on board with a plan to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep Trump in office — presumably for life.
We later learned that Lee and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham were among those who received a pitch from Trumpites in what later came to be called the Eastman memo. That was a plan to have Vice President Mike Pence claim, falsely, that seven states carried by Joe Biden were sending rival pro-Trump electoral vote slates to Congress and make other claims that would gum up the works enough to declare no one had won the Electoral College vote. The election would then be thrown to the House of Representatives, which would then declare Trump the winner.
As reported in “Peril,” the latest book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa — and confirmed by Lee — Utah’s senior senator actually took the plan seriously enough to start calling around to see if there was any validity to it. Lucky for us, he soon found that it was totally bogus and took no further part in it. Crucially for us, Pence did the same.
As far as I can see, there’s no link between Lee and the infamous PowerPoint presentation dug up by the House committee. That’s a 36-page document outlining in much more outrageously bogus detail how Trump could claim that the election was stolen by foreign governments, crooked voting machines and other baseless fairy stories.
If Lee did see that plan, he wasn’t buying it, either.
But, for some reason, Trump was extra livid at Lee and Graham for voting against the challenges to electoral votes and allowing Biden to be declared the rightful winner. Apparently he had some reason to think they would back his coup. But Lee had no stomach for the constitutional crisis that, over on the House side, Utah Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens were happy to foment.
When the House of Representatives later impeached Trump for his role in the riot that violently invaded the U.S. Capitol, Lee voted to acquit the former president. That was an unfortunate choice for someone who spends an awful lot of time talking up the powers of Congress as the superior ones and warning of the never-ending collection of power around whoever happens to be president.
If trying to disrupt the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power by violent means isn’t an example of the Imperial Presidency, it’s hard to see what would be.
Only two House Republicans were willing — or fit — to serve on the select committee: Wyoming’s Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. Both have set an example of fidelity to the Constitution and respect for the truth that Lee might yet choose to follow.
Maybe Lee doesn’t know any more about the coup plot than he’s already outlined in public. But if Lee has any more information — memos, emails, text messages, recollections of being lobbied by the Trump team — he should volunteer to tell the House committee.
It would be a chance for him to win back the honor he hocked by supporting Trump in the last election.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, might yet be convinced to come clean about what happened to all those cupcakes at the company Christmas party.