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Report sheds light on how Pa. lawmakers pressured DOJ to investigate false election fraud claims

Jacqueline Martin
U.S. Rep. Scott Perry repeated President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the Department of Justice “wasn’t doing its job with respect to elections,” despite long-standing agency policy that barred it from engaging in political activity, according to a new report from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

A new investigative report has confirmed two Pennsylvania lawmakers with ties to the “Stop the Steal” movement were actively involved in pressuring the U.S. Justice Department to investigate disproven claims of fraud in the 2020 election.

The interim report is one of the first products of an investigation the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee had promised as early as January. That’s when the New York Times reported U.S. Rep. Scott Perry had been talking with a low-level Justice Department lawyer about strategies to elevate former President Donald Trump’s false assertions that the 2020 election had been stolen from him.

Perry later confirmed those conversations in a statement to WITF, saying he had introduced the lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, to Trump after the former president asked him to.

“Throughout the past four years, I worked with Assistant Attorney General Clark on various legislative matters. When President Trump asked if I would make an introduction, I obliged,” the statement read.

The report shows Perry had also directly passed Clark’s name on to acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue in a conversation on Dec. 27, encouraging the deputy attorney general to rely on Clark as “someone who could really get in there and do something about [election fraud claims].” Perry also repeated Trump’s suggestion that the department “wasn’t doing its job with respect to elections,” despite long-standing agency policy that barred it from engaging in political activity.

Clark would later go on to draft a letter pressuring Georgia election officials to decertify the state’s result, claiming “significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome.” The report shows Clark had also drafted versions of the letter to send to other swing states, including Pennsylvania.

At the end of their Dec. 27 call, Perry sent Donoghue a number of documents allegedly showing proof of multiple election fraud claims, though each had already been disproven. In closed-door testimony to the Judiciary committee, Donoghue said he told the Republican congressman that the DOJ had “not seen fraud on a scale that would have changed the outcome [in Pennsylvania].” Donoghue then forwarded Perry’s claims to Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney Scott Brady, who said they were “not well-founded.”

State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) had sent a similar list of alleged irregularities to Donoghue, asking that they be investigated. These were many of the same false claims that were aired during a late November Senate Majority Policy hearing in Gettysburg that featured Trump lawyer Rudy Guiliani.

Neither Mastriano nor Perry returned requests for comment.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) declined an interview, but sent a statement that in part underscored the seriousness of the committee’s findings.

“Today’s report shows the American people just how close we came to a constitutional crisis,” Durbin said. “We must never allow this unprecedented abuse of power to happen again.”

A companion staff report issued by Republicans on the Judiciary committee dismissed notions that former President Trump acted improperly. They said the evidence actually shows that Trump “listened to his advisors … and followed their recommendations” and that any pressure campaign had no impact on the Justice Department’s investigations into the 2020 election.

“Witnesses testified that President Trump’s outreach to DOJ officials focused on making sure they were ‘aware’ of election fraud allegations and that they were doing their job to investigate them, rather than issuing orders to take certain action,” GOP senators said in the report’s executive summary.

The investigative report only details the committee’s findings so far. Senators said they are holding off on pursuing criminal charges against people like Perry until their investigation is complete. But they have recommended further investigating Perry and Mastriano’s ties to the scheme to help Trump remain in power.

Sam Dunklau reports on Harrisburg for WESA and Pennsylvania's other public radio stations. He previously covered Illinois state government for NPR member station WUIS in Springfield, IL.
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