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Mike Lee’s Role in Trump’s Attempted Coup

What would have happened if his plan worked?
April 18, 2022
Mike Lee’s Role in Trump’s Attempted Coup
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 02: U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) speaks at a hearing of the Judiciary Committee examining issues facing prisons and jails during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on Capitol Hill on June 02, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)

Senator Mike Lee’s defenders insist his repeated texts to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows offering his guidance on the proper constitutional process to overturn the 2020 election results prove his honor. Never mind that the basis for overturning the election wasn’t anything more than Donald Trump’s desire to do so. Details, schmetails!

Let’s bat the argument around, though. The texts show Lee was eager to assist Trump in challenging the election—to the point of Lee texting Meadows dozens of times, begging “please tell me what I should be saying” and offering his advice about what should be done. (Pour one out for his Article One Project.) Specifically, these texts and Lee’s other on-the-record statements show he was consistent in advocating that the only way, according to the Constitution, to change the outcome was for state legislatures to appoint alternate slates of electors for Congress to accept on Jan. 6. Lee spent much time and effort insisting on this. But, the state legislatures did not. So Lee did not raise any objections on January 6th and voted to certify Joe Biden as president. And, for this Lee is supposed to be some kind of hero.

Slow clap.

Because what if GOP-controlled state legislatures in the swing states Biden won had decided to appoint Trump electors based on whatever Cheetos-dust some drive-by gang of Cyber Ninjas sniffed and got high on while seizing Dominion Voting machines? Well, as Lee wrote Meadows on January 3: “Everything changes, of course, if the swing states submit competing slates of electors pursuant to state law.”

Got that? Everything changes. If state-level Republicans had been okay with overturning the election results, then Lee was okay with it, too.

In interviews with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa for their book Peril, which came out in September 2021, Lee depicted himself as someone who, through December 2020, “never wavered” from the view that Congress had no role in messing with Electoral College votes.

The story goes that someone “directed” him to speak with John Eastman around Christmastime. Soon, Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz started looking at other options to challenge the election results, and Lee didn’t go along with their plans.Then, on January 2, in Woodward and Costa’s account, Lee was “shocked” to receive a memo from Eastman. The memo—the short, two-page version, not the six-page version Eastman later developed—outlined a scenario where “7 states have transmitted dual slates of electors to the President of the Senate.”

It’s conceivable Lee was shocked that Eastman wanted the president of the Senate, Mike Pence, to play such a prominent role on Jan. 6th. But the idea of alternate electors is one that Lee knew plenty about—because he and his friends had been talking about it quite a bit.

Some relevant texts to keep in mind:

  • Lee writing to Meadows on November 9, 2020: “​​We had steering executive meeting at CPI tonight, with Sidney Powell as our guest speaker. My purpose in having the meeting was to socialize with Republican senators the fact that POTUS needs to pursue his legal remedies. You have in us a group of ready and loyal advocates who will go to bat for him, but I fear this could prove short-lived unless you hire the right legal team and set them loose immediately.”
  • On November 23, Lee told Meadows that Eastman has “really interesting research,” indicating that he was familiar with Eastman and respected his analysis. (By this point, Eastman was apparently just starting to work with Trump’s political-legal team. He had not yet written his infamous memos or represented Trump in a rejected Supreme Court motion, but had sent out plenty of tweets insinuating that Democrats had by various means stolen the 2020 election from Trump.)
  • 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.”

Lee was on board with Kraken lady, coup memo man, and an alternate elector plot. Check, check, check.

The “CPI” Lee mentioned is presumably the Conservative Partnership Institute. Its leaders, and a who’s-who list of other prominent Lee allies in the conservative movement, issued an open letter on December 10 that said:

The evidence overwhelmingly shows officials in key battleground states—as the result of a coordinated pressure campaign by Democrats and allied groups—violated the Constitution, state and federal law in changing mail-in voting rules that resulted in unlawful and invalid certifications of Biden victories.

There is no doubt President Donald J. Trump is the lawful winner of the presidential election. Joe Biden is not president-elect.

Accordingly, state legislatures in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Michigan should exercise their plenary power under the Constitution and appoint clean slates of electors to the Electoral College to support President Trump. Similarly, both the House and Senate should accept only these clean Electoral College slates and object to and reject any competing slates in favor of Vice President Biden from these states.

Conservative leaders and groups should begin mobilizing immediately to contact their state legislators, as well as their representatives in the House and Senate, to demand that clean slates of electors be appointed in the manner laid out in the U.S. Constitution. [Emphasis added.]

Notice the key line: “State legislatures in the battleground states . . . should . . . appoint clean slates of electors to the Electoral College to support President Trump.”

This is what the activist conservatives in Lee’s circle were loudly, openly demanding. They publicly endorsed a scheme to, through the power of state legislatures, convert Biden’s electors into Trump electors. All without any of the evidence of voter fraud Lee spent two months searching to find.

And we are now supposed to believe that Lee was shocked that his buddies who were willing to throw an election based on butt-dials from Rudy Giuliani would bypass the state legislatures to make up even phonier slates of electors?

That’s a story worth hearing. We deserve more explanation about all paths pursued to install alternate electors. Lee should, under oath, tell it to the Jan. 6th Committee.

What’s amazing is how desperately Lee was still trying to make Trump’s dream of flipping the election come true as late as January 4, 2021.

That day he attended Trump’s rally in Georgia to help “Stop the Steal” Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler get elected. There, he also met with Trump’s legal team. According to Peril, Lee told Trump’s lawyers that they should be making their case in courts and state legislatures, not to members of Congress.

And the newly released texts show Lee wrote to Meadows a lot between January 3 and January 4. He firmly insisted to Meadows that he was helping Trump and was very upset that people were saying otherwise. For his trouble, Trump depicted Lee as someone who wasn’t really a team player.

At the event, Trump said: “Mike Lee is here, too. But I’m a little angry at him today. . . . I just want Mike Lee to listen to this, what I’m talking [about], because you know what, we need his vote.”

Lee texted Meadows: “I’ve been spending 14 hours a day for the last week trying to unravel this for him. To have him take a shot at me like that in such a public setting without even asking me about it is pretty discouraging.”

Meadows said “sorry” to Lee and Lee, in his response, remained eager as ever to show how loyal he remained to the cause:

It’s not your fault. But 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 that I can persuasively defend, and this won’t make it any easier, especially if others now think I’m doing this because he went after me. This just makes it a lot more complicated. And it was complicated already. 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.

How was it that as late as January 4 Lee was still “trying to figure out a path that I can persuasively defend”? Remember, by January 4, the election was decided. Trump had lost dozens of court cases. The states had certified the elections on December 14. It was over. And still, Lee was working his butt off trying to find any flimsy veneer of constitutionality for Trump’s bogus claims.

And what did Lee mean when he wrote “it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote”? Did he mean that if Republican state legislators in, say, Pennsylvania and Arizona got together informally and put their name on a something—nothing binding, just a “statement,” maybe jotted on a bar napkin or the back of an envelope—Lee would consider that sufficient excuse for Congress to reject those states’ official, certified results? Keep in mind that a key suggestion in John Eastman’s short memo was to find a way to “give the state legislatures more time to weigh in to formally support the alternate slate of electors, if they had not already done so.”

In short: Lee outlined paths for Trump nuts to reverse the election. But, after giving these clowns all his attention, time, and effort, he didn’t, in the end, like how the Trump nuts tried to reverse the election. His disagreement was about tactics, not the mission. But his error was accepting the mission at all.

And somehow Lee’s defenders look at this and say, “BOOM! Hands clean.”

Mike Lee may want to pretend he had no role in this process, but the stone-cold truth is that he, and many other conservatives, breathed life into Trump’s schemes and made the Jan. 6th attack on the Capitol possible.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.