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Texts offer behind-the-scenes look at scheme to overturn election

New reporting suggests two GOP lawmakers not only encouraged Donald Trump after he lost, they volunteered to read from the White House’s script.


It was around Thanksgiving when former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows agreed to cooperate with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. To be sure, the Republican soon after changed his mind, but during that brief window, Meadows shared quite a bit with congressional investigators.

Those materials continue to be a treasure trove, shedding light on what transpired behind the scenes as Donald Trump and his allies took steps to overturn the election. CNN reported this morning:

In the weeks between the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, almost 100 text messages from two staunch GOP allies of then-President Donald Trump reveal an aggressive attempt to lobby, encourage and eventually warn the White House over its efforts to overturn the election, according to messages obtained by the House select committee and reviewed by CNN.

While other Meadows’ texts have been the subject of earlier reporting, this story — which has not been independently confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News — focuses on messages the then-White House chief of staff received from Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas.

To put it mildly, the report is not especially flattering for either of the far-right lawmakers, though both eventually changed direction.

It was on Nov. 7, 2020, for example, when the presidential race was called for Joe Biden. It was on that same day that Roy told Meadows, “We need ammo. We need fraud examples. We need it this weekend.” Two days earlier, the Texas congressman seemed to suggest he was looking to the White House to help tell him what to say: “Any help on message appreciated.”

By Nov. 9, Roy was so eager to help challenge the election that had already been called that he offered to fly to Georgia. By Nov. 22, Roy was promoting John Eastman, the controversial Republican lawyer who pushed what was effectively a coup memo, and soon after said he wanted to see Trump’s allies “go on offense.”

But as New Year’s approached, the Texan apparently started reading the writing on the wall. On Dec. 31, Roy wrote, “The President should call everyone off. It’s the only path.”

The congressman, it’s worth noting for context, ultimately voted to certify the election results — a step far too few of his GOP colleagues were willing to take — though that doesn’t change the fact that he’d spent the previous weeks exploring ways to contest those results.

As for Utah’s senior senator, the new reporting doesn’t do Lee any favors, either.

The day Biden was declared the winner, the senator told Meadows, “I want to offer words of encouragement to the president.... This doesn’t have to come down to a binary choice between (1) an immediate concession, and (2) a destruction of the credibility of the election process.” Two days later, Lee promoted Sidney Powell, who would eventually become one of the more embarrassing conspiracy theorists on Team Trump. The Utahan assured the White House she’s a “straight shooter” — though after seeing her notorious press conference, he changed his mind.

Nevertheless, by Nov. 20, Lee was so eager to make Team Trump happy that he texted Meadows, “Please give me something to work with. I just need to know what I should be saying.... There are a few of us in the Senate who want to be helpful.”

Remember, “helpful” at this point referred to assisting Trump in his efforts to hold power despite having lost the election.

In the days and weeks that followed, Lee kept going, promoting John Eastman and absurd commentary he’d heard from conservative media personalities. By Dec. 8, the Republican senator added, “If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path.” On Jan. 3, Lee went on to say, “Everything changes, of course, if the swing states submit competing slates of electors pursuant to state law.” A day later, the lawmaker boasted that he’d spent time “calling state legislators for hours today.”

He nevertheless voted to certify the results after the pro-Trump riot on Jan. 6.

I suspect that Roy’s and Lee’s allies will argue that the end result is what matters most: They grew disillusioned by the madness and didn’t join many of their far-right colleagues in contesting the election after the insurrectionist violence.

But as relevant as the coda might be, the fact remains that both Republicans not only volunteered to read from the White House’s script as Trump fought to overturn the election, they also encouraged the then-president and helped direct malign actors toward the Oval Office. If Lee's claims were honest, he even got in touch with state legislators about the partisan plot and expressed tacit support for an outrageous scheme involving fake electors.

I’m glad they ultimately had misgivings about the undemocratic scheme. I’d be even more impressed if they hadn’t joined the wrong side of the fight in the first place.