Sen. Mike Lee privately fumed that his 'credibility is impaired' after Trump publicly attacked him even as Lee plotted to overturn the election

Sen. Mike Lee privately fumed that his 'credibility is impaired' after Trump publicly attacked him even as Lee plotted to overturn the election
Then-President Donald Trump stood with Sen. Mike Lee during an announcement about shrinking the footprint of national monuments at the Utah State Capitol on December 4, 2017.AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
  • Newly-revealed texts show Lee's frustration with Trump even as he worked to keep him in power.
  • "My ability to do that with credibility is impaired," he said after Trump criticized him at a rally.

Newly-revealed text messages between Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Mark Meadows, President Donald Trump's final chief of staff, reveal Lee's frustration with Trump even as the senator tried to help the president overturn the 2020 election results.

The text messages, reported by CNN on Friday, include a series of exchanges from January 4, 2021 after Trump publicly criticized Lee at a rally that day in Georgia.

"Mike Lee is here too, but I'm a little angry at him today," Trump said at the rally. "Where's Mike Lee? A little angry at you today, but that's alright."

Trump was responding to a letter reportedly circulated by Lee stating that there's "no authority for Congress to make value judgments in the abstract regarding any state's election laws or the manner in which they have been implemented."

The Utah Republican had also declined to join Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri in objecting to the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.


"I've been spending 14 hours a day for the last week trying to unravel this for him," Lee wrote in a text to Meadows after the rally. "To have him take a shot at me like that in such a public setting without even asking me about it is pretty discouraging."

"Now, my ability to do that with credibility is impaired," he added.

But despite Lee's belief that Congress itself couldn't overrule the slates of electors sent by the states, the messages reveal that the Utah Republican was pushing for a strategy of appointing alternate slates of pro-Trump electors in order to swing the election result away from President-elect Joe Biden.

"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," Lee lamented to Meadows on January 4. "This just makes it a lot more complicated. And it was complicated already."

Lee came to believe that Trump and fellow Republicans "need something from state legislatures to make this legitimate and to have any hope of winning," even suggesting that it might be enough if a "majority" of the states are "willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote," according to the texts.


After praising "Kraken" lawyer Sidney Powell as a "straight shooter" on November 9, he later soured on her, warning Meadows that Trump "should probably disassociate himself" from her after a now-infamous press conference where Powell made unsubstantiated claims about Venezuela interfering in the election.

After a brief period of apparent confusion — "Please tell me what I should be saying," Lee texted Meadows on November 22 — Lee later came around to the idea of having states submit alternate electors.

"If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path," he texted Meadows on December 8, 2020.

After Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced that he would object to the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, Lee said he had "grave concerns" about the idea. "Everything changes, of course, if the swing states submit competing slates of electors pursuant to state law," he texted Meadows on January 3, 2021.

"I really think this could all backfire badly unless we have legislatures submitting [Trump slates] (based on a conclusion that this was the proper result under state law)," Lee also wrote. "Even setting aside constitutional concerns, this will be harmful to the president if we don't channel this effort properly."


"We simply have no authority to reject a state's certified electoral votes in the absence of a dueling slates, with the Trump slate coming from a state legislative determination," he added.

The texts also reveal that following Trump's public criticism of Lee in Georgia, Meadows was apologetic.

"Apparently, he was told that you came out with a letter against the electoral objections. I told him that you were being very helpful," he told Lee on January 4. "I pushed back. It wasn't in the prepared remarks. So sorry."

"It's not your fault," Lee responded. Ultimately, Lee voted to certify the 2020 presidential election results, though he voted to acquit Trump after he was impeached by the House of Representatives for inciting an insurrection on January 6.

"Convicting a former official would be an unprecedented and constitutionally dubious step," Lee said of his vote.