SALT LAKE CITY — Messages obtained by CNN show texts between Utah Sen. Mike Lee and President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows in which the two discuss the administration's attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
On Dec. 8, 2020, Lee floated the idea of some states sending electoral college delegates contrary to the verified ballot counts.
"If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path," Lee wrote.
But almost a month later on Jan. 3, 2021, Lee expressed frustration with the president.
"I don’t think the president is grasping the distinction between what we can do and what he would like us to do," expressed Lee, who also sent the following message.
"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."
The very next day, Trump seemingly responded to Lee's texts at a rally the two attended in Georgia.
“Mike Lee is here too, but I am a little angry at him today,” the former president said.
Trump's comment drew a text response to Meadows from Lee.
"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," messaged Lee. "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."
Lee, who faces reelection this year, did not personally respond to the texts, but his office sent FOX 13 News a statement.
"The text messages tell the same story Sen. Lee told from the floor of the senate the day he voted to certify the election results of each and every state in the nation. They tell the story of a U.S. senator fulfilling his duty to Utah and the American people by following the Constitution."
The main candidates running against Lee reacted to the story.
"It's sad to read that. I want senators from either party to put country ahead of partisan divides and in this case it looks like he literally wants to be Trump’s lawyer," said Kael Weston. "It's sad. It's not right."
In a tweet, challenger Evan McMullen said a U.S. Senator, “should defend our Constitution and our freedoms, not use his position to sneakily pursue ways to destroy them.”
The two G.O.P. candidates taking on Sen. Lee in the upcoming primary shared their thoughts.
In a statement to FOX 13 News, Becky Edwards said “Sen. Mike Lee researched overturning a lawful, democratic election for partisan and political gain. The moment Lee realized the gravity of Trump’s attempts to undermine the 2020 election, he should have stopped researching the legality of such actions and stopped pressuring local legislators.”
Business and community leader Ally Isom said she would like to hear Sen. Lee’s explanation for the text messages, adding, this is an example of why Utah voters should seek a change in the U.S. Senate.
“I’d rather our elected official show concern for the priorities for the people of Utah rather than the political gamesmanship that is so common among the political apparatus of Washington, DC,” Isom said.