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Kelly says he didn't know former aide part of 'false elector' scheme, even as his office confirms it

Rep. Mike Kelly, Republican Candidate for U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania's 16th District, addresses a campaign rally at the Westmoreland Fair Grounds in Greensburg, Pa, Friday, May 6, 2022.
Gene J. Puskar
Rep. Mike Kelly, Republican Candidate for U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania's 16th District, addresses a campaign rally at the Westmoreland Fair Grounds in Greensburg, Pa, Friday, May 6, 2022.

Congressman Mike Kelly’s office now confirms that members of his staff were involved in an effort to alter the count of electoral college votes in the 2020 presidential election. But Kelly continues to insist he was unaware of the effort — even if it included a longtime top aide.

“There’s nothing that I’ve seen that would even suggest that took place,” Kelly, R-Butler, told reporters late last week. And since the effort to pass along lists of fake electors to Vice President Mike Pence on January 6th failed, he said, “It’s kind of a nonevent.”

Kelly’s name cropped up in the false elector controversy during a hearing of the House last month. Evidence presented to the Jan. 6th committee revealed that Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson’s office sought to present Vice President Mike Pence with slates of “false electors” that would replace his state’s electoral votes for Joe Biden with a pro-Trump slate. Johnson later claimed that his office’s role was minimal and consisted of being asked to serve as a conduit between Kelly’s office and the Vice-President’s staff, who instructed Johnson’s team not to present the false electors.

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Kelly originally denied those claims outright, issuing a statement that called them “patently false” and saying Kelly “has no knowledge of the claims Mr. Johnson is making.” But Johnson claimed to have phone records showing a call between his staff and Kelly’s then-chief of staff, Matt Stroia. And earlier this month, Kelly’s office disclosed an “internal investigation” that did not refute Stroia's involvement but asserted that neither Kelly nor anyone else currently on staff knew of his “reported actions.”

Last week, the national political magazine Politico reported on the existence of an email about the scheme, circulated among pro-Trump lawyers and allies in December. Stroia was among those listed as recipients of the email: Politico said his appearance “on the December 2020 email indicates that Trump’s allies saw him as a team player earlier than previously known.”

In that story, Kelly’s current chief of staff, Tim Butler, is quoted saying that “Matthew got the information” and “another staffer … was asked to physically walk it over. And it’s just those two individuals that were involved.”

Kelly’s office did not respond to the Politico story, and it declined to answer questions from WESA, including queries about whether he was pleased with Stroia’s job performance or whether he usually allows staff to be involved in such significant actions without his approval or awareness.

Instead, the office directed questions to Stroia, who had been a top Kelly aide for a decade but left the office last summer to work as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Stroia could not be reached for comment there and has not responded to queries from other outlets.

But late last week, Kelly held a press conference for Erie media to respond to an op-ed piece by the chairman of Erie County’s Democratic committee. Kelly was asked about the false elector scheme during that contentious half-hour appearance, video of which was posted by Erie Times-News reporter Matthew Rink,

Kelly reiterated that he has no knowledge of Stroia’s actions nor of his current chief of staff’s remarks to Politico about them.

“I’ve never had that discussion with Mr. Butler,” Kelly said. He professed not to have seen the Politico story nor spoken to Stroia or the other staffer involved about the events. He said his focus had been on “things that affect this district directly. … I really don’t dwell on stuff that happened almost two years ago.”

Kelly’s rival in the upcoming election, Democrat Dan Pastore, seemed less inclined to let it go. On Friday, he issued a statement calling on Kelly to release any records relating to communications with Donald Trump’s campaign or other allied groups.

“The only way we can finally learn the truth is if he releases every single record,” the statement said. “If Mike Kelly won’t take this simple step to be transparent, there is absolutely no reason to believe anything he says.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.