Sen. Mike Lee distanced himself from a Republican fundraiser in his home state of Utah on Thursday after learning the man, who had hosted events the senator attended, was accused of raping four women.
Lee’s spokesman Brian Phillips told TPM the senator was “shocked as much as the rest of us” when he learned earlier in the day about the arrest of Greg Peterson, 37, of Orem, Utah.
The GOP fundraiser was charged Wednesday with 23 felonies and two misdemeanors on accusations that he raped four women, including two at a Utah cabin where he hosted political events that Lee and some of the other big Republicans in the state attended.
“There were a number of folks there, that, had they gathered anywhere else, the senator would have also attended because he owed many of them a great deal in terms of their support ant things like that,” Phillips said. “Sen. Lee’s attendance at these events was not about Mr. Peterson but more about unifying the Republican Party in Utah about his campaign.”
Almost immediately after the Salt Lake Tribune reported news of the arrest on Thursday morning, videos and photos of Lee and Peterson surfaced on the internet. They all appeared to be taken at events at the fundraiser’s cabin.
In one photo, posted to Flickr by Utah businessman and Tenth Amendment advocate Michael Jolley, the two men can be seen standing shoulder to shoulder.
In a video that appears to have been posted to YouTube by Peterson long before his arrest, Lee is shown hitting golf balls into a lake near the fundraiser’s cabin.
Despite the appearances of friendliness, however, Lee’s spokesman insisted that their relationship only consisted of two events that he attended along with dozens of other conservative politicians. One was in 2010, the other in 2011. Both were at the cabin.
Phillips said Peterson organized the first event to bring together Republicans after a brutal primary between Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater. The spokesman said Peterson had been a supporter of Bridgewater during the primary and likely supported Lee in the general election. According to federal campaign finance data, there is no record of Peterson having donated to Lee.
Lee was among the speakers featured at a similar event at the cabin in 2011, according to a blog post by Jolley. Others who spoke there included Sen. Orrin Hatch, Gov. Gary Herbert and Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Phillips said everyone in the senator’s office was concerned for the victims of the alleged crimes and hoped the system would handle Peterson appropriately.
“If he’s guilty of these crimes,” he said, “we hope justice for Mr. Peterson is swift and direct.”
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com