“Relentless pace”: Republicans’ bad week gets worse as FBI drops subpoenas on Pennsylvania GOP

FBI's fake elector investigation appears to be picking up speed amid a flurry of moves this week

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 11, 2022 12:21PM (EDT)

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The FBI served subpoenas to "several" Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers this week as part of the federal investigation into the pro-Trump fake elector plot, according to PennLive.

While news of the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago has dominated the news cycle, the FBI this week also seized Rep. Scott Perry's, R-Pa., cellphone and delivered subpoenas or paid visits to multiple state House and Senate offices on Tuesday and Wednesday, sources told the outlet.

"While we were all occupied punditing about Mar-a-Lago, the FBI was apparently quite busy in Pennsylvania," tweeted Peter Strzok, a former senior FBI official. "Respect to the relentless pace."

The FBI is specifically seeking information related to Perry and the effort to deliver a so-called alternate slate of electors as part of former President Donald Trump's plot to steal the election.

Perry played a key role in Trump's scheme, backing his false claims of election rigging and connecting Trump with former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark, who effectively tried to stage a coup at the DOJ so he could become attorney general and advance Trump's Big Lie, DOJ witnesses told the House Jan. 6 committee. The Jan. 6 panel has also turned up evidence showing that Perry was in frequent contact with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows as Trump sought to overturn his loss.

Trump ultimately backed off his plan to appoint Clark to lead the DOJ after warnings of mass resignations at the department. Authorities marched Clark out of his home in pajamas in June and raided his house as part of a DOJ investigation.

Former top Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to the Jan. 6 panel that Perry discussed Trump coming to the Capitol after his rally at the Ellipse ahead of the Capitol riot, which Perry denied. Perry, the chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, was also present for the group's Dec. 21, 2020 meeting with Trump to discuss what Congress could do to block President Joe Biden's win. Former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue testified to the committee that Perry also called him on Dec. 27 to push debunked claims about discrepancies in the state's vote count.

Hutchinson testified that Perry sought a pre-emptive presidential pardon from Trump after the Jan. 6 riot, which Perry also denied.

Perry on Tuesday said he had his phone seized by the FBI at an airport while he was traveling with his family. The Washington Post reported that the phone was seized as part of the FBI's investigation into the fake elector plot.

Perry on Tuesday called the seizure "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 in a Facebook post.

But the seizure, along with the raid on Trump, would have had to be approved by a federal magistrate judge, meaning that the FBI would have had to show significant evidence that a crime likely occurred.

Perry in a statement to PennLive on Wednesday said that he was told he is not the target of the FBI's investigation.

"In a discussion with the DOJ (federal Department of Justice), my attorneys were informed that I'm not a target of its investigation," he said. "I've directed them to cooperate with the Justice Department in order to ensure that it gets the information to which it's entitled, but to protect information to which it's not - including communications that are protected under the speech and debate clause of the United States Constitution."

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Senior Pennsylvania Republicans denied any knowledge of the subpoenas issued on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"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," Jason Thompson, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Temp Jake Corman, told PennLive. "We have no indication that any of our members are targets of any FBI investigation."

But numerous Pennsylvania Republicans played active roles in the fake elector plot, including GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. Mastriano, a state senator who has vehemently pushed Trump's election lies, was seen as the "point person" in the state's effort to deliver an "alternate" slate of electors that would ostensibly subvert the will of the state's voters, according to The New York Times. An attorney for Mastriano denied the report.

The "alternate" slate of electors included other prominent Republicans, including former Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., Allegheny County GOP Chairman Sam DeMarco, former Trump Pennsylvania campaign chair Bernie Comfort and Andy Reilly, one of the state's members on the Republican National Committee.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced earlier this year that the fake electors would not face state charges even though the fake elector scheme has come under scrutiny by other federal and local investigators.

"Though their rhetoric and policy were intentionally misleading and purposefully damaging to our democracy, based on our initial review, our office does not believe this meets the legal standards for forgery," Shapiro said in a statement in January.

Along with Perry and Clark, the FBI previously seized the phone of attorney John Eastman, who was the brains behind Trump's plot to block the certification of Biden's win. The DOJ also seized the phone of Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald and subpoenaed Georgia GOP Chairman David Shafer, along with other Trump campaign allies in Georgia, Arizona and New Mexico. Nearly a dozen of Georgia's fake electors were also subpoenaed in a separate investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is probing Trump's effort to overturn his loss in the state.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Doug Mastriano Fake Electors January 6 Politics Scott Perry