Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, wanted to help Donald Trump remain in the White House despite losing the election, but he became increasingly dismayed by the arguments offered by the former president's legal team.
The Utah Republican and Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, exchanged more than 100 text messages with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, which were obtained by CNN, and the communications show Lee pushing right-wing attorney Sidney Powell into Trump's orbit -- and then turning on her after a disastrous news conference with campaign attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis.
"I'm worried about the Powell press conference," Lee texted Meadows shortly after the Nov. 19, 2020 event. "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."
Meadows agreed he, too, was "very concerned," but Lee wasn't ready to give up yet.
"The temptation will be to do nothing for now," Lee wrote to Meadows. "I'm not sure doing nothing is a good option."
The GOP senator appeared very concerned that some of the subjects of Powell's conspiracy theories about the election would sue for defamation -- which some of them later did -- and he feared that Trump would be implicated.
"Unless Powell can immediately substantiate what she said today, the president should probably disassociate himself and refute any claims that can't be substantiated," Lee texted. "He's got deep pockets, and the accusations Powell made are very, very serious."
"That is an especially bad combination when you consider the damages that could easily be claimed (and indeed proven) and the deep pockets involved," he added.
But the very next day, Lee came back to Meadows begging for better talking points than the legal arguments offered by Powell, which even she later admitted weren't meant to be taken seriously.
"Please give me something to work with," Lee said. "I just need to know what I should be saying."
Two days after that, on Nov. 22, 2020, the senator again begged Meadows for guidance.
"Please tell me what I should be saying," Lee texted.
That same day, Lee expressed worry that other senators were losing faith in Trump's legal team, which still included Powell, but he continued offering advice a day later, on Nov. 23, 2020.
"I have an additional idea for the campaign," Lee texted. "Something is not right in a few states. I think it could be proven or disproven easily with an audit (a physical counting of all ballots cast) in PA, WI, GA, and MI."
Then he promoted the work of right-wing attorney John Eastman, who crafted the so-called coup memo detailing how vice president Mike Pence could delay the congressional certification of Joe Biden's election win and alternate electors sent by state legislatures could then install Trump into another term.
"John Eastman has some really interesting research on this," Lee texted. "The good news is is that Eastman is proposing an approach that unlike what Sidney Powell has propose could be examined very quickly. But to do this, you'd have to act very soon. Some believe today might be the deadline for some of this in PA."
He pushed that plan even harder on Dec. 8, 2020."
If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path," Lee texted.
Meadows said he had already been working on that same strategy, and Lee came back the following week asking for White House guidance.
"If you want senators to object, we need to hear from you on that ideally getting some guidance on what arguments to raise," Lee texted on Dec. 18, 2020. "I think we're now passed [sic] the point where we can expect anyone will do it without some direction and a strong evidentiary argument."