Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee holds his pocket Constitution of the United States during a televised debate with his independent challenger Evan McMullin on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Orem, Utah.
CNN  — 

At a Utah debate on Monday night, independent Senate candidate Evan McMullin forcefully criticized Republican incumbent Sen. Mike Lee for Lee’s efforts, prior to January 6, 2021, to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory.

Lee’s response was to rewrite history.

Lee tried, as he did earlier this year, to downplay his actions. But his own text messages contradict his debate narrative – providing clear evidence that he did far more to try to reverse Biden’s win than he now claims.

Here’s the story Lee told at the Monday debate: “In the days leading up to January 6, when the votes were going to be opened and counted, I had a job to do. There were rumors circulating suggesting that some states were considering switching out their slates of electors. If that were true, I would need to know about it. I did research on that; I made phone calls to figure out whether the rumors were true. The rumors were false. On that basis, I voted to certify the results of the elections.”

One part of the story is true: Lee did vote on January 6 to certify Biden’s victory, saying Congress didn’t have a constitutional role in the process other than opening and counting the electoral votes. But before that – according to his texts to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, which were obtained by the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol – he wasn’t merely doing research to look into the truth of rumors.

To the contrary, the texts show Lee telling Meadows that he was engaged in an intensive attempt, until at least two days prior to January 6, to somehow find a way that Donald Trump could be named the winner of the election. On January 4, he told Meadows in reference to Trump: “I’ve been spending 14 hours a day for the last week trying to unravel this for him.”

Asked during the Monday debate if Biden fairly won the election, Lee said “yes, Joe Biden is our president” because Biden “was chosen in the only election that matters: the election held by the Electoral College.” But Lee’s texts show that he kept working to achieve a Trump victory for three weeks after the Electoral College affirmed Biden’s win on December 14, 2020.

‘Trying to figure out a path’

According to Lee’s texts, his efforts in the days leading up to January 6 were centered around the possibility that some states Biden won could appoint pro-Trump Electoral College electors instead.

Lee wrote to Meadows on December 8, 2020: “If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path.”

Lee continued pushing this concept as January 6, the date Congress was set to count the electoral votes, got closer. In a text on January 3, he again raised the idea of “legislatures submitting Trump slates (based on a conclusion that this was the proper result under state law).” While Lee expressed both political and constitutional objections to other Republicans’ ideas for trying to thwart Biden’s victory, he argued that “everything changes, of course, if the swing states submit competing slates of electors pursuant to state law.”

On January 4, Lee framed his phone calls to state legislators not as mere research queries but as part of his quest to find a defensible way to keep Trump in office. Complaining about how Trump had just criticized him publicly, Lee told Meadows: “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.”

Lee continued: “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.”

Since the release of his texts earlier this year, Lee has claimed that he never pushed states during his phone calls to adopt alternate slates. “At no point in any of those was I engaging in advocacy. I wasn’t in any way encouraging them to do that. I just asked them a yes or no question,” he told the Deseret News in April. Lee’s campaign did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment on Tuesday.

‘Fake’ electors

McMullin said at the Monday debate that Lee tried to get the White House to find “fake electors to overturn the will of the people.” Accusing McMullin of dishonesty, Lee claimed there is “not a scintilla of evidence” suggesting he ever supported the notion of having “fake” electors.

This might have been a dispute about terminology.

There is no evidence that Lee endorsed the hodgepodge of Republicans in Biden-won states who ended up baselessly declaring themselves “electors” for Trump. Those are the people who have generally been referred to as “fake electors.”

But, again, Lee repeatedly communicated with the White House about how state legislators in places where Biden got the most votes might be able to find a way to appoint pro-Trump electors. McMullin was well within his rhetorical rights to describe these potential electors as “fake,” too.

Promoting advocates of overturning Biden’s win

Lee’s promotion of “alternate” state electors was his most significant known role in the attempt to overturn Biden’s win. But that wasn’t all he did.

On November 7, 2020, the day television networks unofficially called the race for Biden, Lee tried to help attorney and election conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell get a meeting at the White House so she could lay out “a strategy to keep things alive and put several states back in play.”

Also on November 7, Lee sent Meadows a message for Trump, signed by himself and a variety of other conservatives, urging Trump to “keep fighting” and to “exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy at your disposal to restore Americans faith in our elections.”

The text history shows that Lee had soured on Powell by mid-November. But by November 23, he was talking up the views of constitutional law professor John Eastman – another aggressive proponent of overturning Biden’s win.

The same day, Lee said right-wing commentator Mark Levin “makes a very compelling case for the need for litigation related to this election.” Lee also suggested an “audit” of four swing states Biden won.