“Please tell me what I should be saying”: Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s desperate texts to Mark Meadows

Mark Meadows’ private texts continue to be a cesspool of GOP wrongdoing and stupidity around Jan. 6.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks on his phone as he waits for US President Donald Trum...
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images
Impact

With more than a year’s distance between us and the effort by Donald Trump and his nebulous ring of allies and abetters to overturn his 2020 electoral loss, we’ve reached a point where each new revelation about just what was happening behind the seditious scenes is both shocking in the specific, and utterly unsurprising as part of a larger, extremely obvious whole. Yes, of course the White House was running a full court press to pressure states into essentially flipping on his behalf — we all know the broad contours of what was happening, and are now in the business of filling in the various details and linkages within that broader framework.

So it is with CNN’s newly published tranche of messages between Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, and Mark Meadows, the last and most obsequious of Trump’s many chiefs-of-staff. In text after awkwardly phrased text, Lee presses Meadows on Trump’s ongoing effort to overturn the election results, showing an eager willingness to go along with the scheme, while simultaneously worrying about a lack of any tangible evidence to support the effort.

In one message in the days immediately following the election, Lee asks Meadows to convey to Trump his “unequivocal support for you to exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy at your disposal to restore Americans faith in our elections.”

In a subsequent message, he tells Meadows that Trump aligned attorney Sydney Powell, of the much malignedKraken” fame, “is saying that she needs to get in to see the president, but she's being kept away from him. Apparently she has a strategy to keep things alive and put several states back in play.”

“Can you help her get in?” he asked.

But just three days later, Lee started having second thoughts, texting Meadows: “'I’m worried about the Powell press conference. The potential defamation liability for the president is significant here. For the campaign and for the president personally. Unless Powell can back up everything she said, which I kind of doubt she can.”

That sense of futility only grew over time, with Lee texting Meadows on November 20th “Please give me something to work with. I just need to know what I should be saying” and two days later reiterating “please tell me what I should be saying. There are a few of us in the Senate who want to be helpful (although I sense that number might be dwindling).”

That same day, Republican Congressman Chip Roy texted Meadows that “If we don't get logic and reason in this before 11/30 - the GOP conference will bolt (all except the most hard core Trump guys. We need a controlled message ASAP.” Roy also recommended Meadows talk to John Eastman, the ultra-conservative attorney responsible for the Trump Administration’s fraudulent legal effort to block Joe Biden’s electoral certification.

As the texts show, the longer that effort stagnated, the more Lee and Roy began to express their private panic to Meadows. Just three days before the January 6 insurrection attempt, Lee texted Meadows that he had “grave concerns with the way my friend Ted [presumably Texas Sen. Ted Cruz] is going about this effort.”

He continued [emphasis mine]:

This will not inure to the benefit of the president. Everything changes, of course, if the swing states submit competing slates of electors pursuant to state law. But if not, this could help people like Ted and Josh [presumably Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley] to the detriment of DJT. I don't think the president is grasping the distinction between what we can do and what he would like us to do. Nor do I think he's grasping the distinction between what certain members are saying that sound like they could help him, but would really hurt him. He's got a very real opportunity for a win in 2024. That opportunity could be harmed in multiple ways this effort. Again, all of this could change if the states in question certified Trump electors pursuant to state law. But in the absence of that, this effort is destined not only to fail, but to hurt DJT in the process.

Roy shared similar fears with Meadows over New Years eve, texting that “the President should call everyone off. It's the only path. If we substitute the will of states through electors with a vote by Congress every 4 years... we have destroyed the electoral college... Respectfully. Give a statesman speech. End strong.

He was even more stark in his prognosis the following day, telling Meadows that “if POTUS allows this to occur... we're driving a stake in the heart of the federal republic...”

The cumulative narrative of Lee and Roy’s texts is clear: Some of Trump’s most loyal congressional supporters, once eager to throw their weight behind his effort to overturn his electoral loss, are clearly shown growing more and more dispirited and desperate as they realize just how unmoored from reality those efforts have become. By putting the seditious cart ahead of the sound, data-backed horse, it seems they slowly began to see not only the general dangers of allowing Trump to continue, but the acute personal risks they brought upon themselves by joining him.

Notably, while Lee and Roy were expressing their growing frustrations with the Trump administration’s ex-post-facto effort, the former president’s eldest son, Don Jr. was also texting Meadows his own delusional legal theories about how his father could still remain in office. “We have multiple paths We control them all," he insisted at one point.

All told, then, we’re faced with the same dynamic that’s come with each previous revelation into the Trump administrations seditious pursuit of power: a shocking series of specific instances that highlight just how fractious and self-aware the effort truly was, but which ultimately only bolster the broader, indisputable fact that Donald Trump and his allies were deeply and unapologetically involved in trying to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The only real question left is: will they actually be held accountable?