Federal investigators delivered subpoenas or paid visits to several House and Senate Republican offices in the Pennsylvania Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to multiple sources.
At least some of the individuals receiving subpoenas were told they were not targets of an investigation, according to at least six sources reached by PennLive, but that they may have information of interest to the FBI. All of the sources had been briefed on the investigative moves in some way, but demanded anonymity in order to discuss them.
The information being requested centered around U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and the effort to seek alternate electors as part of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to remain in office after the 2020 election, several sources said.
The Washington Post on Wednesday, citing a source familiar with the probe, also reported that Perry’s cellphone was seized Tuesday as part of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the use of fake electors to try to overturn President Biden’s victory. The Post’s source also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Spokepersons for the Pennsylvania’s House and Senate Republican leaders did not confirm whether any of their caucus members received a subpoena.
“I am unaware of any FBI presence in the Capitol or Leader Benninghoff’s office yesterday. To the extent House members or staff may have been contacted by the FBI, we would not comment on a potential or ongoing investigation,” said Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, and the chamber’s Republican caucus.
A spokesman for House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, said on Wednesday morning that office did not receive a visit and said they were unaware of the FBI having a presence in the Capitol on Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County, referred questions to the office of Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre County.
Jason Thompson, a spokesman for Corman, issued a statement, saying, “Federal subpoenas typically request confidentiality from the witnesses being subpoenaed in order to avoid impediment to the ongoing investigation, so it would be inappropriate to comment on whether members have received subpoenas or not. If subpoenaed as witnesses, our members will certainly comply with requests for documents or information not covered by an applicable privilege.”
He added: “We have no indication that any of our members are targets of any FBI investigation.”
Perry, in a post to his re-election campaign’s Facebook page Tuesday evening, called the seizure of his phone while he was traveling with his family “banana republic tactics…”
“I’m outraged — though not surprised — that the FBI under the direction of Merrick Garland’s DOJ, would seize the phone of a sitting member of Congress,” he said.
If the telephone was seized under the cover of a search warrant, however, it would have had to have been approved by a federal magistrate judge.
PennLive’s efforts to reach Perry, his attorney on Jan. 6 matters, and his congressional staff were all unsuccessful Wednesday.
The subpoenas issued this week in Harrisburg are essentially official requests for information or documents from federal prosecutors who believe that the information they seek will be helpful to an ongoing grand jury investigation, said David Freed, the former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
It is different from a warrant in the sense that there is no requirement to show probable cause of a crime that’s been independently reviewed by a judge, but – absent a legal challenge that results in the subpoena being quashed – it does require the recipient’s compliance, Freed noted.
Perry, a York County Republican in his 5th term in the House, has come under as much scrutiny as any Pennsylvania office-holder over his involvement in Trump’s efforts to stay in power after his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
The primary focus on Perry from multiple congressional investigations that have played publicly has been his connection to former Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, one of the few Department of Justice officials who appeared to be sympathetic to Trump’s false claims that the vote in several swing states had been rigged against him.
Democratic staff on the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee reported in October that it was Perry who had introduced Clark to Trump shortly before Christmas 2020. And the House Select Committee investigating the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol has turned up other evidence of Perry communicating with Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about Clark.
Clark quickly captured Trump’s fancy as a potential replacement for Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. Clark, according to findings of both Congressional committees, urged a plan to send letters asking legislatures in six states — including Pennsylvania -— asking them to call special sessions to review election fraud allegations and consider appointing alternate slates of electors that would award votes to Trump instead of Biden.
Trump ultimately backed off a plan to replace Rosen with Clark in the face of warnings that such an action would result in mass resignations throughout the Department of Justice, the committees have stated.
Federal agents conducted a search of Clark’s home earlier this summer.
Perry’s name has surfaced in several other ways regarding Trump’s efforts to stay in power. They include:
- Meadows’ former aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to the House Select Committee that Perry was among a small group of people who talked with Meadows about a potential appearance by Trump at the Capitol following his rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021. Since this was discussion about a scheduled movement, Hutchinson explained, it meant the takes would have been in advance of Jan. 6.
Perry’s spokesman Jay Ostrich said the congressman denied being part of any such discussion.
- Perry was present during a Dec. 21 meeting between members of the House’s arch-conservative Freedom Caucus and Trump to strategize about what Congress could do to block final certification of Biden’s election.
- Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue told Senate Judiciary Committee staff Perry called him at Trump’s behest on Dec. 27 to discuss what turned out to be an errant analysis circulating among Trump backers at the time that Pennsylvania’s certified vote count was higher than the number of voters who had actually cast ballots.
The report, first promoted by a group of Republican state lawmakers, was based on a premature reading of input on individual voter histories into the state’s registry of registered voters.
- Hutchinson, in her House Select Committee testimony, also listed Perry among a number of congressmen who inquired about the possibility of receiving a pre-emptive presidential pardon from Trump before he left office. Perry angrily denounced that assertion – first voiced by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming — as a “soulless lie.”
To date, the House Select Committee has not provided any documentation of Hutchinson’s claim about the pardon request.
Perry has given limited comment on most of these allegations, but in comments to a Philadelphia talk radio station earlier this summer he said he feels he and other Trump supporters are being persecuted for legitimate questions that they had about the conduct and result of the 2020 election – some of which he alleged were never seriously investigated.
But he also insisted he’s ready for the fights ahead.
“I’m in the fight to serve our Republic, and if it means stepping out and having the light shown on me, I’m going to do it,” Perry said. “This is the price to be paid for service, and if you’re not willing to pay the price, quite honestly, you shouldn’t serve.”
As for the fake elector scheme, Pennsylvania was one of the several states where pro-Trump slates of electoral college voters were formed.
In Pennsylvania, the group met Dec. 14, 2020, in a conference room at the Harrisburg offices of Quantum Communications, the public relations and advocacy firm run by Charlie Gerow. Gerow is a top leader in the American Conservative Union and was an unsuccessful candidate in this year’s Republican primary for governor.
The Pennsylvania Republican State Committee said at the time that they met to cast “a conditional vote for Donald Trump and Mike Pence.”
“We took this procedural vote to preserve any legal claims that may be presented going forward” said Bernie Comfort, Pennsylvania Chair of the Trump campaign. “This was in no way an effort to usurp or contest the will of the Pennsylvania voters.”
They said the slate of electors was appointed only to act in the event that the results of the election were lawfully overturned.
“As far as I’m concerned, everything that was done that day by the alternate electors was done properly set forth as an alternate slate if the federal court or other courts found the Biden slate was not to be recognized,” said Gerow. “We did everything right and from what I heard and saw, they wanted to do everything in a proper way.”
The Trump slate included a number of well-known GOP luminaries, including former congressman Lou Barletta, Allegheny County Republican Committee Chairman Sam DeMarco III, Comfort, the current vice-chair of the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee, and Andy Reilly, one of Pennsylvania’s members on the Republican National Committee.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in January that his investigators had looked over the Republican elector slate and felt that – while the action was “intentionally misleading and purposefully damaging to our democracy,” they did not believe it met the legal standards for criminal prosecution.”
No sitting Pennsylvania legislators were a part of the pro-Trump elector slate, though The New York Times reported last month that at least some in the Trump’s campaign leadership considered Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor, as the “point person” to help organize electors in Pennsylvania.
That report referred to Dec. 12, 2020 emails between Trump campaign attorneys that Mastriano had been fielding concerns that the plan was illegal, and that he should be reached out to by the campaign.
Mastriano’s attorney, Timothy Parlatore, declined to comment Wednesday on allegations that Mastriano was involved in the Trump elector scheme, and the Mastriano campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
But he also predicted there will be no criminal charges that will flow from that leg of the Trump probes. Formation of those slates, he said, has been done before and “it is the appropriate action to take when there’s the potential that the original slate may be invalidated through litigation or investigation,” Parlatore said.