Evan McMullin, the independent candidate for Senate in Utah, confronted incumbent Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Monday over his role in the plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the rivals’ Senate debate.
Text messages from Lee to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows revealed how Lee helped push legally dubious schemes to keep then-President Donald Trump in power before shifting course and voting to certify the 2020 election on January 6, 2021. Lee also encouraged top Trump advisers to embrace Sidney Powell, a Republican lawyer who spread baseless claims of a rigged election.
“That was the most egregious betrayal of our constitution in our nation’s history and it will be your legacy,” McMullin said in Monday’s debate.
“When the barbarians were at the gate, you were happy to let them in,” McMullin added, referring to texts Lee sent to Meadows, urging him to listen to people like Powell and John Eastman, a right-wing attorney who authored “coup memos” on overturning the election.
Lee defended himself by saying he was simply looking into “rumors” of alternate slates of electors in the weeks before Congress voted to certify the 2020 presidential election, noting he ultimately voted to affirm Democrat Joe Biden as president.
“There is absolutely nothing to the idea I would have supported a fake elector plot … It’s not true. You owe me an apology,” Lee told McMullin.
The conservative senator then held up his pocket constitution. “How dare you, sir,” he added.
McMullin shot back: “Senator Lee has been doing this thing with his pocket constitution for the last several years … The constitution is not a prop for you to wave about and then when it’s convenient for you for your pursuit of power to abandon without a thought.”
In a Dec. 8, 2020 text message to Meadows, Lee suggested “there could be a path” toward overturning the results of the 2020 election “if a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates.”
However, by Jan. 3, 2021, just days before the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by hundreds of Trump supporters, Lee appeared to experience a change of heart. In text messages to Meadows, he warned the effort could “backfire badly” and urged him to convince Trump to change course.
“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,” Lee said on Jan. 4.
Lee is facing a tighter-than-expected challenge from McMullin, a former CIA officer and House GOP staffer. The race isn’t considered competitive, but a recent poll found McMullin within a striking distance of four points.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.