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Opinion: I believe Sen. Lee’s words and deeds exonerate him

The disclosure of text messages is a tempest in a teapot. One need look no further than the words of Lee himself on Jan. 6, 2021, to prove he has integrity and acted ethically

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In this image from video, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks as the Senate reconvenes after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol.

In this image from video, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks as the Senate reconvenes after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

Senate Television via Associated Press

In January, Newsweek published a poll reporting that only 20% of Americans say they are very confident in election integrity. Every other democracy on the planet has better voting security than the U.S. does, and Newsweek — which is hardly a right-wing outlet — confirmed that four out of five Americans acknowledge this.

And — gasp — Utah’s favorite son, Sen. Mike Lee, is one of them.

Lee took a reasonable and ethical position in his role as senator on the controversial 2020 presidential election. On one hand, he pushed hard for the Trump campaign to explore all legal avenues. On the other hand, he voted to seat electors after legal avenues failed to produce rulings that would have impacted the election. Most conservatives share Lee’s position on the 2020 election.

Recently, CNN acquired and reported on private text messages between Lee and Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. The Deseret News reportedon April 15, 2022, that these “show how far the Utah Republican went in exploring avenues for the Trump administration to overturn the 2020 presidential election before ultimately deciding they were dead ends.” In other words, Lee supported efforts by the Trump legal team to do what lawyers do — represent the interests of their client until legal challenges fail. Like any senator who has taken an oath to the Constitution, Lee did not object to the seating of electors and did nothing to disrupt proceedings on Jan. 6, 2021.

Released oh so conveniently before the GOP state convention on April 23, where Lee will doubtless receive another standing ovation, the news story has led to unfair attacks on the senator. He recognized that many Republicans knew foul play had beset the 2020 election and he wanted to let them have their say in a court of law to prove those charges. The senator is open about his calls to investigate allegations of fraud in the 2020 election and publicly voted to certify the electoral results when those claims could not be proven in a court of law.

The transparent ethical conduct of Lee has been twisted by the Republican turned independent candidate for Senate, Evan McMullin, for political gain. McMullin tweeted that Lee “was far more involved in the scheme to overturn the election than we previously knew.” The texts show that Lee was doing the right thing to both push for election integrity while recognizing that the Constitution mandated certification after the litigation failed.

McMullin should not be criticizing the content of these previously private text messages, because they exonerate Lee from the eye-roll-inducing inference that he tried to “overturn the election.”

One problem with the left is that they ignore the fact that people have lost confidence in our election process. This doesn’t help when politicians like McMullin infer a conspiracy by Lee and the White House to overturn the election. Election conspiracy theories pushed by politicians will lead to less confidence in the election process.

One need look no further than the words of Lee himself on Jan. 6, 2021, to prove he has integrity and acted ethically. Lee said on the floor of the United States Senate, “While it is true that legitimate concerns have been raised with regard to how some of the key battleground states conducted their presidential election ... our job is to open and then count. Open, then count. That’s it. That’s all there is.” The senator met “with lawyers on both sides of the issue.” In the end, he did not “discover any indication that there was any chance that any state legislature, or secretary of state, or governor, or lieutenant governor ... had any intention to alter the slate of electors.” That closed the case for him, because competing slates of electors would have put senators in the position to choose which electors to count.

The disclosure of these text messages is proof that the words of Lee on Jan. 6, 2021, the day Congress open and counted electoral votes was the same as in private text messages. This is a tempest in a teapot that some will use to spin wild conspiracy theories ill-suited for a respected outlets like this one.

Jared Whitley is a longtime Washington, D.C., and Utah politico, having worked in the U.S. Senate and Bush White House.