Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) finally weighed in on his damning text messages to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in the weeks leading up to the deadly Capitol insurrection last year.
The senator’s weak remarks come almost a week after CNN reported on his aggressive, behind-the-scenes lobbying to help subvert the 2020 election results alongside Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) up until Jan. 6.
In a phone interview with Deseret News on Wednesday, Lee took no accountability for doing former President Trump’s bidding by initially privately aiding efforts to overturn the election before he ultimately voted to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory hours after the deadly insurrection.
Lee basically shrugged at the outrage over his texts, telling Deseret News that he has known Meadows for years, and therefore his texts Nov. 7, 2020, to Jan. 4, 2021 were just casual banter.
“He knows that when I said things like ‘Tell me what we ought to be saying,’ what I was just trying to figure out was ‘What is your message?’ He knows me well enough to know that that doesn’t mean I will do your bidding, whatever it is,” Lee told Deseret News.
Taking on a Trumpian tone, Lee accused the media of taking his texts to Meadows out of context because of some unclear “political motive,” saying that they were “leaked” as part of a smear campaign against his bid for re-election.
Echoing his office’s weak statement, which was released shortly after CNN’s report on his text messages to Meadows, Lee again leaned on the fact that he did ultimately vote to certify Biden’s electoral victory — despite also publicly calling for an investigation into election fraud falsehoods before the insurrection.
“President Biden is the president of the United States. … We know that he is the president of the United States because the Electoral College met on Dec. 14 and then cast electoral votes. Those electoral votes signaled the victory for President Biden,” Lee reportedly said.
After saying it’s not Congress’ job to determine whether there was any fraud in the election, Lee dodged when pressed on whether he thinks there was any fraud in the first place.
“I’ve answered your question,” Lee said.
The Deseret News interview was mostly one deflection after the next. At one point, Lee claimed that he simply wanted to help Trump in his efforts to determine if it was possible for the results to be tossed — by doing his own legal research and speaking to lawyers “aspiring or claiming” to represent the then-President.
“There were a million theories circulating at any given moment,” Lee said.
Among the reported texts he sent to Meadows, Lee at one point endorsed pro-Trump lawyer and conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell as a qualified advocate for Trump’s election steal efforts, and urged Meadows on Nov. 7 to allow her to speak to Trump. Lee also praised Powell as a “straight shooter” in another text to Meadows on Nov. 9.
According to Deseret News, Lee claimed he didn’t know Powell and apparently has no recollection of how he got in touch with her, but denied that he introduced her to Trump’s team. After acknowledging that he had some initial conversations with Powell, Lee reiterated that he was disillusioned with the lawyer after she spouted unhinged conspiracy theories during a disastrous press conference alongside other pro-Trump lawyers, which included Rudy Giuliani.
“The things she said didn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Lee said.
And despite texting Meadows four times about boosting conservative legal scholar John Eastman’s infamous plot for then-VP Mike Pence to steal the election for Trump, Lee attempted to distance himself from Eastman, claiming that Eastman’s memo on the scheme failed to provide any real analysis about how a state could change its slate of electors.
“That’s when I became alarmed. Honestly, by Jan. 2, I started to think this had blown over and maybe they were not going to try this stunt that I think could be dangerous,” Lee said.
These comments are the first time Lee has remarked on the texts (beyond his office’s initial statement) since CNN reported on the contents of Lee and Roy’s messages to Meadows, all of which were obtained by the Jan. 6 Select Committee.
Both Lee and Roy were hellbent on carrying out Trump’s election steal attempt, the texts reveal — until they came to the realization that that effort was half-baked hours after the insurrection.
Lee has seemed reluctant to respond to the revelations, with the Utah Republican’s staffers physically blocking a Salt Lake Tribune reporter who attempted to press Lee about his texts during a local county GOP convention in his home state on Tuesday.
Amid Lee’s silence, Lee’s colleague and vehement Trump critic Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) came to his defense, despite saying that efforts to overturn the election results on behalf of Trump were a mistake to begin with.
“From what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think Sen. Lee has done anything illegal. Anything else is for him to respond to,” Romney told reporters on Wednesday.