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How Pennsylvania played a role in a fake elector scheme during the 2020 election

An exhibit is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022.
Chip Somodevilla
Pool Getty Images North America
An exhibit is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 21, 2022.

The U.S. House committee investigating the January 2021 U.S. Capitol attack spent several hours Tuesday scrutinizing former President Donald Trump’s potentially illegal effort to convince GOP leaders in some states – including Pennsylvania – to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Trump and his allies repeatedly and falsely claimed widespread fraud had corrupted the results in several battleground states. Multiple court rulings, two commonwealth-mandated audits, and election security experts and officials of both parties concluded the 2020 presidential results were accurate.

One leg of Trump’s pressure campaign rested on getting groups of Republicans in swing states to send Congress a slate of presidential electors loyal to Trump. His re-election campaign hoped the Senate would certify the alternate electors selected instead of the real Electoral College votes.

Pennsylvania’s role

Twenty Pennsylvania Republican politicos, activists, and business owners claiming to be their party’s electors met in Harrisburg on Dec. 14, 2020.

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

They signed a form certifying the state’s 2020 election results for Donald Trump and Mike Pence. But, the form they signed noted they would only become the state’s official electors if the Trump campaign won any of its dozens of election lawsuits. None of them succeeded.

Dec. 14 was the same day the real slate of electors met near the state Capitol complex to cast all of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes for Joe Biden. They did so without incident.

While both political parties normally prepare a shortlist of presidential electors before the results are in, none has tried to certify a presidential election for a clear loser and send that form to officials in Washington.

Here’s who signed the fake elector form:

Lou Barletta, a former congressman and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and governor.

-Charlie Gerow, a political strategist and Republican candidate for governor. According to fellow fake elector Andy Reilly, the group signed their certification form at the offices of Gerow’s public relations firm, Quantum Communications.

-Andy Reilly, a lawyer and Republican Party of Pennsylvania national committeeman.

Bill Bachenberg, an NRA Board member and Lehigh Valley firearms business owner. The Jan. 6 committee subpoenaed Bachenberg along with fake electors from other states.

-Tom Carroll, a recently-elected Northampton County Republican committee member and former assistant district attorney.

-Ted Christian, Pennsylvania state director for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Chuck Coccodrilli, a political activist who died last October.

-Bernadette Comfort, the vice chairwoman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Sam DeMarco III, an at-large representative on the Allegheny County Council and Republican Committee of Allegheny County chair.

-Marcela Diaz-Myers, who served as the chairwoman of PA GOP Hispanic Advisory Council. She has since removed that role from her LinkedIn page. Another link to her bio on the Advisory Council’s website is no longer active.

Christie DiEsposti, an account representative at a company called Pure Water Technology.

Josephine Ferro, the Monroe County Register of Wills/Recorder of Deeds.

Kevin Harley, who manages Quantum Communications alongside Gerow. He also served as Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s communication director and press secretary.

-Leah Hoopes, a defendant in a Delaware County defamation lawsuit alleging Trump’s false claims that workers tampered with election machines there subjected the elections supervisor to threats.

-Ash Khare, a retired engineer and Pennsylvania Republican Party member.

-Andre McCoy, a retired U.S. Army major.

-Lisa Patton, a Harrisburg business owner who was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee earlier this year.

-Patricia Poprik, the chair of the Bucks County Republican Committee.

-Suk Smith, a Carlisle business owner.

-Calvin Tucker, the deputy chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Seven others had been asked to sign the certification form, including state GOP Chair Lawrence Tabas and former Congressman Tom Marino, but refused.

Marino told the Washington Post he trusted U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr’s conclusion that the 2020 election was free and fair, adding “I’m not going to jump on a bandwagon to say that I know better than the courts.”

New details about the fake elector meeting

In an interview with WITF, Reilly said the elector group strategized with Trump’s legal team before their Dec. 2020 meeting.

He said a group that included Rudy Guiliani pointed to a 1960 dispute between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon over Hawaii’s election result as “precedent.” Only about 200 votes separated the candidates after that election, so electors from both parties sent signed certificates to D.C. claiming their candidate had won.

“There was precedent, they were saying, for us to do it. So that’s the course we took,” Reilly said.

Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes.

Reilly, a lawyer, said he “and others” had reservations about joining the effort. He added he was among those who suggested hedging the language of the certification sheet.

“I and others on the phone call raised [the concern] that we have no standing to do it. You can’t have two sets of electors,” he said. “So it was done conditionally. Everyone on the phone call agreed to it.”

Reilly said he “acknowledged” at the time that Biden had more votes than Trump, but was holding out hope for a Trump campaign legal victory. After Trump’s numerous defeats in court, he said he changed his tune.

“Everyone knows Joe Biden won the election, and I believe that now,” Reilly said.

In the same breath, the state Republican Party leader added he still believes unspecified “irregularities” in the state’s voting procedures may have changed the outcome.

State House Speaker Cutler’s testimony

The committee also unveiled previously-unseen footage of testimony by House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) on Tuesday. Cutler was among those pressured to use his office to overturn the state’s presidential vote and justify it by using false claims of election fraud. In a statement, he said he spoke with the January 6 committee twice over the last few months.

When asked to elaborate, he said providing additional comments on his interviews was “inappropriate.” Cutler added he did not know which parts of his testimony would be used during public hearings.

An investigator revealed Cutler rejected calls from then-Trump campaign lawyers Jenna Ellis and Guiliani. Both were recorded trying to speak with him about false election fraud claims. Ellis is now a senior legal adviser for state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin)’s campaign for governor.

Cutler said when he rejected the efforts, he was targeted by Trump-allied protestors. The committee showed that effort was led by people like former White House strategist Steve Bannon.

“All of my personal information was doxxed online… It was my personal email, my personal cell phone, my home phone,” Cutler told the committee. “We had to disconnect our home phone for about three days because it would ring all hours of the night and fill up with messages.”

Cutler has previously said Trump called him at least twice asking for his help to overturn Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results, falsely citing, “all these issues in Philadelphia, and these issues with [state election] law.”

Around the same time, the House Speaker joined dozens of other state lawmakers in signing a letter on Dec. 4 asking Congress to object to Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be-cast Electoral College vote.

Cutler’s spokesperson, Mike Straub, said last January the Speaker joined the effort because of “legal challenges to Pennsylvania’s change in law [that] were pending.” Straub said Cutler “did not call for overturning any election results” in signing the letter.

The Lancaster County Republican is one of the only state lawmakers to speak publicly about the decision. Of the 76 that signed objection letters in the House and Senate, four have spoken with WITF about them. Along with Cutler, they are Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon), Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) and Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon).

What’s next

Jan. 6 committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D, MS-2) said the panel will reveal its findings on former President Trump’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department on Thursday.

Part of a tier of schemes to keep the former president in power, this one allegedly involved Trump personally trying to replace then-acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue with Jeffrey Clark. The junior-level official was sympathetic to Trump’s false election fraud claims.

A U.S. Senate report revealed midstate GOP Rep. Scott Perry (PA-10) played a key role in pushing for Clark’s appointment. The Jan. 6 committee has text messages from Perry and said he sought a pardon from Trump over his actions leading up to the U.S. Capitol attack. He has denied the charge.