Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Pa. Republicans’ roles in attempts to overturn 2020 election draw scrutiny in congressional, FBI probes

Members of the Jan. 6 committee have singled out those Republicans' efforts as part of what the committee members described as an “attempted coup” by Trump and his supporters.

Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.).
Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.).Read moreDrew Angerer / MCT

Former Trump administration officials detailed Thursday how U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) pushed wild conspiracy theories to the highest levels of the federal government in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential results.

And when that failed, they told the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, he urged President Donald Trump to overhaul the Justice Department by promoting a Philadelphia-born attorney willing to sanction false claims already dismissed by law enforcement.

At one point, the former officials said, Perry’s efforts led some of the country’s most powerful officials to investigate claims from a YouTube video that alleged Italian satellites had influenced U.S. votes.

The sworn testimony from former DOJ leaders who had resisted Trump’s pressure put a searing focus on Pennsylvania, showing how far the president and allies like Perry tried to go to spread the falsehood that the election was stolen, even in the face of abundant evidence that their claims were unfounded.

The plan to install Jeffrey Clark, an environmental attorney originally from Philadelphia, as acting attorney general “may very well have spiraled us into a constitutional crisis,” testified Richard Donoghue, who was then the second-ranking official at the Justice Department and threatened to resign.

Their testimony came on the same day that two other Pennsylvania Republicans came under scrutiny for the roles they played in organizing and advancing a so-called alternate slate of pro-Trump electors from battleground states in advance of a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress to certify Joe Biden’s victory.

FBI agents interviewed Allegheny County GOP chairman Sam DeMarco. And U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly was implicated by a fellow congressman in an effort to advance false electors from Wisconsin and Michigan — a claim Kelly denied.

Members of the Jan. 6 committee have described the combination of those efforts as an “attempted coup.”

Trump’s efforts amounted to “a power play to win at all cost, with no regard for the will of the American people,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.), a Trump critic and one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 committee. “Facts were clearly just an inconvenience.”

‘Pure insanity’

Perry, of York County, received some of the sharpest scrutiny Thursday during the committee’s fifth public hearing.

He was one of several GOP House members who contacted the White House in the waning days of the Trump administration to inquire about a potential presidential pardon, according to video testimony played Thursday from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

A Perry spokesperson has denied the pardon request took place, and Perry stood behind that denial Thursday.

“At no time did I speak with Miss Hutchinson, a White House scheduler, nor any White House staff about a pardon for myself or any other Member of Congress — this never happened,” he said in a statement.

» READ MORE: Scott Perry asked the White House about a pardon after the Jan. 6 attack, Cheney says as hearings open

Perry has been invited to testify to the committee, but has refused, saying it lacks legal authority.

He was one of the leading figures in Pennsylvania pushing to undermine the 2020 presidential election results, and on Jan. 6 led the charge on the House floor to throw out the state’s electoral votes, and the will of its voters.

In between, evidence presented by the committee showed, he was in frequent contact with Meadows and officials at the Justice Department urging them to open investigations into conspiracy theories that had already been debunked.

For instance, in a Dec. 27, 2020, call with Donoghue, Perry continued to advance an erroneous study asserting that there were more votes than voters in Pennsylvania. He told Donoghue he made the call at Trump’s request.

“There was zero to that,” Donoghue testified Thursday. He had forwarded the claims to a Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney in Western Pennsylvania, who quickly dismissed it as unfounded.

Days later, Perry texted Meadows a YouTube video featuring a conspiracy theory involving Italian satellites tampering with the election results — one Meadows forwarded on to the DOJ to investigate. It led to the acting defense secretary contacting U.S. officials in Italy to discuss the issue.

Donoghue said Thursday he emailed then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen a terse reply: “Pure insanity.”

The effort to install Jeffrey Clark as AG

As Perry failed to make headway at the Justice Department, he floated an idea to Trump to replace the officials who were stonewalling him with an attorney more open to investigating supposed election fraud, the committee said.

In late December, he introduced Trump to Jeffrey Clark, a graduate of Father Judge Catholic High School and environmental lawyer who at that point was serving as a newly installed acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division. Within days, Clark was pushing Trump to oust Rosen and name him acting attorney general instead.

» READ MORE: Jeffrey Clark, the Philly native who Trump almost named AG

The committee on Thursday revealed that Perry repeatedly texted Meadows, a former ally from Congress, urging him to contact Clark.

But attorneys in both the White House and Department of Justice forcefully said Thursday they viewed Clark as a lightweight unqualified to investigate election claims.

Throughout Thursday’s hearing, various officials mocked Clark’s plan to send a Justice Department letter citing “grave concerns” about the election in Georgia to pressure state lawmakers there into setting aside their election results.

White House attorney Eric Herschmann recalled calling Clark a “f-ing a-hole” after he presented the idea to Trump in an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 3.

“Congratulations,” Herschmann said, recounting the moment in video testimony, “You’ve just said that the first act you’d take as attorney general is committing a felony.”

Ultimately, though, Trump backed down when Rosen, the acting attorney general, and Donoghue, his second-in-command, and other officials threatened to resign if he appointed Clark to the DOJ’s top role.

On Thursday, Perry’s office pointed to a statement he first issued in January, saying he introduced Clark to Trump at the president’s request.

“My conversations with the President or the Assistant Attorney General, as they have been with all with whom I’ve engaged following the election, were a reiteration of the many concerns about the integrity of our elections, and that those allegations should at least be investigated to ease the minds of the voters that they had, indeed, participated in a free and fair election,” Perry’s statement said.

And though Clark was subpoenaed to testify before the Jan. 6 committee, he asserted his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination more than 120 times, committee members said.

FBI agents raided his home in suburban Virginia on Wednesday.

FBI interviews Allegheny County GOP chair

The FBI has declined to confirm or deny any investigation into Clark. But signs have emerged in recent days in several battleground states — including Pennsylvania — of the Justice Department’s interest in another effort by Trump and his allies to derail Joe Biden’s victory.

This week, agents delivered subpoenas to several false “alternate” Trump electors in states like Michigan and Arizona. Investigators subpoenaed and interviewed Sam DeMarco, the chair of the Allegheny County GOP, at his home Thursday morning.

That subpoena, first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, sought records related to the Trump campaign and any role it played in the effort to organize an alternate set of electors in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania slate — which included some of the state’s most prominent Republican leaders — received less attention, in part because its organizers inserted a caveat in the document that they were standing ready to serve only in the event of a court order recognizing them as the rightful Pennsylvania electors.

“When we did not win in court, the matter ended,” DeMarco said in a statement Thursday.

He accused the Justice Department of “hunt[ing] Republicans,” described his visit from agents as “routine,” and said “it clearly demonstrates that my conduct was open, above-board.”

Some other Trump electors in Pennsylvania — like Republican political consultant Charlie Gerow — said they hadn’t been contacted by the FBI. Most declined to answer questions about the investigation

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly’s role

The Jan. 6 committee has previously highlighted a related effort by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson to hand-deliver invalid slates of electors to Vice President Mike Pence.

But on Thursday, Johnson implicated another Pennsylvania Republican in the incident: U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly.

Johnson told a Wisconsin radio host Thursday that his office knew little about the electors, but that they were delivered to him by a Wisconsin attorney who got them from Kelly, a Trump ally who represents a district in northwestern Pennsylvania.

“We found out now this came from Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Kelly’s office,” Johnson said.

Kelly’s office denied Johnson’s story.

“Senator Johnson’s statements about Rep. Kelly are patently false,” said Kelly spokesperson Matt Knoedler. “Mr. Kelly has not spoken to Sen. Johnson for the better part of a decade, and he has no knowledge of the claims Mr. Johnson is making related to the 2020 election.”