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Mike Lee's texts and the coup in search of a legal theory
It was never about "election fraud." Lee's texts gave away the game.
Republicans have insisted that the January 6 insurrection was rooted in legitimate concerns Trump supporters have about voter fraud and election security. (It wasn’t.) Now, newly published texts between then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows exchanged with Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Chip Roy describe what was really going on.
To quote a federal judge who concluded recently that Trump likely committed felonies in the course of trying to overturn his loss, it was “a coup in search of a legal theory” — one for which the plotters haven’t been held accountable. Lee and Roy’s texts would count as a confession if there was any penitence expressed or even implied in them. (There isn’t.)
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The texts, which were obtained by the January 6 committee and published by CNN, show Lee and Roy begging Meadows to help them develop arguments they could use as a pretext to justify supporting the effort to keep Trump in office after the election had been called for Biden. Notably, unlike the Ted Cruzes and Mo Brookses of the world, Lee and Roy are sometimes thought of as serious Republicans who kept some distance from the Trump cult. But here they were, scheming with the White House about ways to effectively end US democracy and install a racist gameshow host as an autocrat.
“Please give me something to work with. I just need to know what I should be saying,” Lee wrote to Meadows on November 20, reiterating two days later: “Please tell me what I should be saying.”
“I am working on it. Not sure what to suggest,” Meadows replied on November 22.
At no point does Lee so much as allude to actual examples of fraud or irregularities that could conceivably justify efforts to not accept Biden’s victory. Instead, on December 8, he baldly suggests that Republican-controlled legislatures effectively toss out the results and throw the election for Trump.
As late as January 4 — the same day Trump dissed Lee at a rally, which Lee fumed about in texts sent to Meadows later that night — Lee suggested that even if it was too late for state legislatures to convene ahead of Congress’s counting of the electoral votes two days later, “it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote.”
The texts make clear, however, that Lee had grown frustrated with the chaotic coup attempt by then. He ultimately wasn’t among the eight Republican senators who voted to reject the election results on January 6, though it seems clear from the texts that Lee’s decision had more to do with his conviction that Trump no longer had a viable path to stay in power than it did with concerns about the damage being done to American elections.
It’s worth remembering that in the weeks leading up to the 2020 election, Lee wasn’t even trying to hide the fact he isn’t big on democracy. He posted a series of bizarre, incoherent tweets in early October 2020 stating that “liberty, peace, and prosperfity [sic]” are more important than democracy, which he claimed can “thwart” those ends.
“We’re not a democracy,” he claimed.
Working hand-in-glove with the White House, Lee then tried to make that statement a reality. Thankfully, Trump and his flunkies are superhumanly incompetent.
“What’s the message? This seems hard to sell”
Like Lee, Chip Roy spent the days immediately following the election pleading with Meadows to help Republicans develop a message they could use to reject Trump’s loss. The below texts are from November 5, two days after the election, when the result was still unclear but it was becoming more apparent by the day that Biden had won.
Two days later, Roy lamented to Meadows that he and other MAGA Republicans still didn’t have much to work with.
“Dude, we need ammo,” he wrote. “We need fraud examples. We need it this weekend.”
”We are working on exactly that,” Meadows replied.
Roy was still whining to Meadows in late November that Republicans didn’t have a coherent message. He also encouraged Meadows to connect with John Eastman, a lawyer who developed a six-step plan for Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election on January 6.
“Have you talked to John Eastman?” Roy wrote on November 22.
Roy continued to badger Meadows to put together “a message to go on offense,” but he grew disillusioned as the weeks ticked by. By December 31, he was ominously advising Meadows that Trump “should call everyone off” and concede.
And even though Roy clearly supported the attempt to install Trump in office to a point, the fact he didn’t ultimately join 139 House Republicans to reject the results on January 6 still landed him on Trump’s bad side. Last May, Trump released a statement denouncing Roy’s bid for a position in House Republican leadership, saying “he has not done a great job, and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district.”
In a sane country, these texts would be an albatross for the GOP
Members of Congress scheming with the White House to overturn the result of a presidential election is obviously a big deal. But it wasn’t treated as such on the Sunday news shows, where the texts didn’t come up a single time.
Democrats, meanwhile, are talking about staying focused on kitchen table issues and trying to tune out the GOP’s descent into QAnon-style conspiracy theories and authoritarianism. That might make sense in a normal political environment. But the reality is that autocracy is on the ballot these next two election cycles, and Dems should make those stakes clear to voters. We will have much bigger problems than inflation if Trump and his enablers return to power.