Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee actually defended keeping his paycheck in an interview with KUTV local news, despite his communications director Brian Phillips telling BuzzFeed the story about Mike Lee keeping his paycheck during a government shutdown was incorrect. Lee's office said they would ask KUTV for a correction, but emails provided to BuzzFeed by KUTV show they never asked for one. Lee's office now says he will donate to charity each day of the shutdown.
"KUTV's story is wrong. We've called for a correction. Lee will donate to charity for every day of shutdown," Phillips told BuzzFeed.
Following those remarks, KUTV's executive producer Don Kauffman provided BuzzFeed with this email that he said came from Lee's office:
Thanks for talking with me Don. I appreciate you letting us clear this up. I also know there ail [sic] be the temptation to frame this as "backtracking," but that's not at all what this is. As I said, the Senator was unfortunately muddy in his explanation of how the process works and wasn't prepared at that time to make a big announcement about how he was going to handle it.
"All Members of Congress and the President receive pay during a government shutdown as a matter of law. For furloughed federal employees, Congress has traditionally provided back pay and I would support that approach in this case. In addition, after we negotiate a deal with Democrats to reopen the government and pay for federal employees resumes, I will make a donation to charity for each day the government is shut down. I am continuing to work around the clock to write and build support for legislation that will keep government open and end the stalemate."
KUTV then played the full audio of its interview with Lee Wednesday night, which revealed Lee not only said he would keep his paycheck while other members of Congress would not, but defended the decision.
"I don't," Lee said when asked if he refused a salary like some members of Congress during the shutdown. "I'm working, I'll continue to be paid."
"You don't want the lawmakers influencing their decision by whether or not they are going to get their paycheck," he added. "You want them to come to consensus, you want them to get the government funded, and you want that to be on the basis of the merits of the decisions, and not on the basis of something else. "
KUTV followed up again with Lee, pointing out that other members of Congress were not accepting a paycheck. Lee responded saying, "I understand the point, and I've answered the question."
According to KUTV, Phillips never asked for a correction. Phillips also said Lee didn't want to make a "big theater production" about giving his money to charity, adding that was behavior of fellow Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
"Mike Lee is not the kind of guy to make a big theater production about what and why he gives his money to charity. He's not Ted Cruz or Rand Paul," Phillips said to KUTV.
Fellow members of the Utah congressional delegation Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson are not accepting pay during the shutdown.
Lee's office told BuzzFeed " he substance of your original statement is wrong. He is not 'keeping his paycheck.' And by your logic, every time he explains how Obamacare works, he'd be defending it. Ridiculous."
The full audio, provided by KUTV, has been posted below:
Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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