In a text sent on Nov. 7, the day that many media outlets declared the election for current Democratic President Joe Biden, Lee asked Meadows to deliver the following message to Trump.
“We the undersigned offer our unequivocal support for you to exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy at your disposal to restore Americans faith in our elections,” he wrote.
What followed were months of correspondence where Lee offered advice on means to overturn the election and asked for guidance on what he should be saying, according to the reporting by CNN.
Lee and Trump have an uneven history dating back to before the latter was elected president in 2016. Here is a breakdown of the events preceding and surrounding Lee’s texts with Meadows.
July 2016: Lee attempts, and fails, to stop Trump from becoming the Republican Party’s presidential nominee while gathered in Cleveland with Utah’s GOP delegates at the Republican National Convention.
October 2016: In a since-deleted Facebook video, Lee calls for Trump to step down as a presidential candidate after a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced in which Trump makes lewd comments about women. In his video, Lee says, “You, sir, are the distraction. Your conduct, sir, is the distraction.”
November 2016: Trump wins the 2016 presidential election, defeating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Lee reveals that he voted for independent candidate Evan McMullin, saying, “I had signaled in the past concerns that I had with my party’s nominee. I’ve made no secret about that and I don’t feel any desire to rehearse those now.… I saw in Evan McMullin an opportunity to register a protest vote.”
In the months following Trump’s victory, Lee begins to warm to Trump. He later says he can’t identify exactly when his feelings toward the president began to shift but that they agree more often than not.
June 2018: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announces his retirement. Lee and his brother, Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee, are included on a short-list for candidates. Current Justice Brett Kavanaugh is selected instead.
November 2019: Lee announces he will co-chair Trump’s reelection campaign in Utah. At the time of the announcement, Lee said, “Look, some of you in this room, some of you in our state were wise enough to see where this was heading a few years ago. You were quick and astute enough to see the gift that President Trump and Vice President Pence would be to the United States of America. Some of us took a little bit more time.”
Sept. 9, 2020: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies. Trump retains both Lee and his brother on his list of potential nominees. Current Justice Amy Coney Barrett eventually receives the nod.
Sept. 23, 2020: Trump refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the 2020 election. In response, freshman Utah Sen. Mitt Romney tweets, “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.” Lee’s spokesperson, Conn Carroll, says, “Sen. Lee is entirely confident that both President Trump and Joe Biden will honor the results of this November’s election.”
Oct. 7-8, 2020: Lee tweets “We’re not a democracy.” He follows up the controversial message with another tweet a day later, writing, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity (sic) are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”
Oct. 28, 2020: At an Arizona campaign rally, Lee compares Trump to Book of Mormon hero Captain Moroni, saying, “To my Mormon friends, my Latter-day Saint friends, think of him as Captain Moroni. He seeks not power, but to pull it down.” He later walked back his comments, somewhat, calling them “perhaps awkward” in a Facebook post.
Nov. 4, 2020: Lee urges voters to remain calm while votes are counted, saying in a written statement, “Once again, we have an extremely close presidential election on our hands. It’s best for everyone to step back from the spin and allow the vote counters to do their job. The most important thing is that we have a fair count that the American people can trust.”
Nov. 7, 2020: The Associated Press calls the election for Biden. Lee sends a message of support to Meadows, along with several texts concerning pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell — who is currently facing disciplinary action in multiple states — in one text writing, “Sydney (sic) Powell 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?” Nov. 7 is the beginning of CNN’s reporting on Lee’s correspondence with Meadows.
Nov. 9, 2020: Even as a pair of his fellow Utah lawmakers acknowledge Biden as president-elect, Lee refuses to admit Trump’s defeat, releasing a written statement, saying, “I look forward to working with whichever candidate emerges as the winner at the end of this process.” In a text to Meadows, Lee reaffirms his support for Trump and mentions a meeting with other Republican senators at which Sidney Powell was the guest speaker. He writes, “You have in us a group of ready and loyal advocates who will go to bat for him, but I fear this could prove short-lived unless you hire the right legal team and set them loose immediately.” In a different message, Lee says he’s found Powell to be a “straight shooter.”
Nov. 10, 2020: Lee asks Meadows about how many “vbm” (likely referring to vote-by-mail ballots) were tossed out in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for not meeting state requirements. “I can’t find the stats anywhere,” he wrote. “But in the primaries it was above the current margin of victory with much lower turnout. If they played games with that Trump has a really strong case.”
Nov. 19, 2020: Lee texts Meadows worried about Powell’s remarks at a news conference hosted by Trump’s legal team. In one text, he calls some of the accusations Powell made “very, very serious.” He also gives counsel to Meadows, writing, “Unless Powell can immediately substantiate what she said today, the president should probably disassociate himself and refute any claims that can’t be substantiated.”
Nov. 20 and 22, 2020: Lee sends texts asking for advice on what to say. “Please give me something to work with,” he writes on Nov. 20. “I just need to know what I should be saying.”
Nov. 23, 2020: Lee repeatedly defends Trump’s refusal to concede the election on conservative social network platform Parler, writing in one post, “You want unity now, progressives? Great. If you do, then — regardless of what you think of President Trump or the legal theories being pursued by his lawyers — at least acknowledge that he has every right to verify the fairness and accuracy of the election. Such efforts are not at odds with the electoral process; they are themselves part of the process.” Lee also sends a text to Meadows, outlining his belief that an audit of ballots in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Michigan could help prove “something is not right” in those states. “But to do this,” he wrote, “you’d have to act very soon.”
Dec. 8, 2020: Lee sends another suggestion to Meadows: “If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path,” he writes, proving he knew about machinations to have then-Vice President Mike Pence discard Electoral College votes nearly a month before he claimed. Meadows responds, “I am working on that as of yesterday”
Dec. 16, 2020: Lee tells Meadows that if he wants any senators to object to certifying electoral votes, he would have to provide them with talking points. “I think we’re now passed the point where we can expect anyone will do it without some direction and a strong evidentiary argument,” he wrote in one text.
Jan. 3, 2021: Lee sends a slew of texts to Meadows, voicing concerns about the way the campaign is going. One of the texts reads, in part, “I’d love to be proven wrong about my concerns. But 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). … 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.”
Jan. 4, 2021: This is the final day of texts that CNN released between Lee and Meadows. Lee is upset at the way Trump rebuked him at a Georgia rally. Lee writes, “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. This just makes it a lot more complicated. And it was complicated already. We need something from state legislatures to make this legitimate and to have any hope of winning.”
Jan. 6, 2021: A mob storms the U.S. Capitol. During the assault, Trump mistakenly calls Lee. Lee votes against objections to certifying the election in Arizona and Pennsylvania. “Our job is a very simple one,” he said. “Our job is to convene to open the ballots and to count them. That’s it.”
March 10, 2021: Lee attacks HR1, a massive voting rights bill, saying, “I disagree with every single word in HR1 … Everything about this bill is rotten to the core. It was written and held by the devil himself.”
April 1, 2022: Trump endorses Lee for reelection.
Tribune editor Jeff Parrott and reporter Bryan Schott contributed to this report.
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.