UPDATED: 29 NOV 2023 10:26 PM EST
At 11:08 p.m. on Dec. 30, 2020, days before Donald Trump prepared to install Jeff Clark atop the Justice Department amid his frenzied push to remain in power, Clark got a text from one key ally, Rep. Scott Perry.
“POTUS seems very happy with your response. I read it just as you dictated,” Perry (R-Pa.) texted the senior Justice Department official.
“I’m praying. This makes me quite nervous. And wonder if I’m worthy or ready,” Clark replied.
“You are the man. I have confirmed it. God does what he does for a reason,” Perry continued.
At the time, Clark was supporting Trump’s false claims of voter fraud — and Trump, hoping to harness the Justice Department in his bid to overturn the 2020 election, was nearing a decision to appoint Clark as acting attorney general. He ultimately backed off amid a high-level rebellion at DOJ and in the White House. But the newly disclosed text messages — contained in a court filing that appears to have been erroneously made public on Wednesday — show that Clark was girding for the appointment, bolstered by support from Perry, a conservative leader in Congress.
The intimate exchange, along with a batch of other communications, was released by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which previously heard litigation over special counsel Jack Smith’s effort to access the communications stored on Perry’s cell phone. The court partially blocked Smith’s effort in a ruling that relied on the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, which allows members of Congress to prevent certain communications from being probed by prosecutors.
Many of the documents connected to the case had been kept under seal. But on Wednesday, the D.C. Circuit unsealed them — including a lower court’s opinion that described and quoted from a large volume of the very text messages that Smith has been seeking. By Wednesday evening, the unsealed opinion appeared to have been removed from the court’s public docket, suggesting it may have been posted inadvertently.
A spokesperson for the court did not immediately respond to a request for comment. John Rowley, an attorney for Perry, described dismay at the public release of the communications.
“The disclosure of Representative Perry’s private communications, taken from the phone of a sitting Member of Congress — who has never been accused of wrongdoing — is unfortunate,” Rowley said. “The communications reflect his efforts to understand real-time information about the 2020 election. They were confidential and intended to address critical business before Congress in service of his constituents.”
The FBI seized Perry’s phone in August 2022 — three months before Smith took over the probe — but the congressman quickly moved to block prosecutors from accessing the files it contained, citing his constitutional protections.
Wednesday’s unsealed filing shows that the warrant prosecutors obtained to access Perry’s phone sought an extraordinary array of information related to the investigation of efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election. It included a demand for any communications related to “alleged election fraud,” “efforts to install Jeffrey Clark as Acting Attorney General,” as well as contacts between Perry and Clark, his deputy Ken Klukowski, Trump, Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, attorney John Eastman and others. The warrant sought any discussions related to “overturning, decertifying, delegitimizing, challenging, or questioning the results of the 2020 United States presidential election in any state.”
The newly disclosed documents reveal an extraordinary web of communications between Perry, who is now the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, and key figures in Trump’s orbit. They include:
- A Dec. 12, 2020, text exchange with Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel discussing efforts to challenge Joe Biden’s victory in the election.
- A series of exchanges between Perry and a former DOJ colleague, Robert Gasaway, between Dec. 30, 2020, and Jan. 5, 2021, in which Perry embraced a plan to have then-Vice President Mike Pence “admit testimony” prior to the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021. Perry agreed to “sell the idea” with a call to Trump, Pence and Trump adviser John Eastman, but Perry later alerted Gasaway that Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, “will not allow access.”
- A description of numerous exchanges between Perry and top Trump administration officials, including Clark, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, senior adviser Eric Herschmann and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, a former House colleague of Perry.
- A Nov, 12, 2020 text to Trump campaign lawyer Alex Cannon advising the campaign on challenges to the election results in Pennsylvania, as well as numerous other contacts with Trump-affiliated lawyers Jenna Ellis, Boris Epshteyn and Justin Clark.
- An exchange with Simone Gold, a doctor known for opposing the Covid vaccine who would later plead guilty to misdemeanors for her role in the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
- Exchanges with numerous Pennsylvania state legislators, including Doug Mastriano, strategizing ways to challenge the state’s election results.
- Texts with “cybersecurity individuals” working with attorney Sidney Powell to challenge the election results, including Phil Waldron. In one exchange, Perry emailed former Trump National Security Council staffer Rich Higgins to relay an “incredibly spooky” allegation that the U.S. Army had confiscated election servers in Germany to help cover up fraud.
In the days after the election was called for Biden, Perry told one ally, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, that he would attempt to help get him or Sidney Powell booked on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show. The filing shows Perry was in touch at times with Phil Waldron, a purported cybersecurity expert working with Powell, and discussed ways to get a pipeline of information to state legislative leaders. "Rep. Perry asked Waldron to 'show me what you have' and agreed to 'fast track any questions/answers right to the leadership in the pa state legislature,' and stating '[w]e’ll need a connection in the other states,'" the filing reveals.
But the exchanges with DOJ’s Clark — described in Smith's federal indictment of Trump as one of six unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators in an effort to subvert the 2020 election — are perhaps the most revealing. Clark, then a low-profile figure who oversaw the Justice Department’s civil litigation in the final months of the presidential term, was introduced to Trump by Perry amid Trump’s effort to remain in office.
Trump came close to appointing Clark as acting attorney general in the early days of 2021 before backing down amid a mass resignation threat by senior DOJ and White House officials. During this time, Clark pressured top DOJ officials to send a letter to state legislatures urging them to consider sending alternate slates of presidential electors to Congress, and he obtained a security clearance to review intelligence about potential foreign efforts to interfere in the election.
Perry indicated in one newly disclosed exchange that Trump had personally approved a “presidential security clearance," a comment that followed Clark asking Perry to ensure that Trump was aware that CIA Director Gina Haspel needed to supply him with "security clearance tickets" to access intelligence related to the 2020 election.
In one exchange, Perry told Clark that Trump was upset with Clark for using the Justice Department to defend Pence against a lawsuit brought by another House member, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). Gohmert was seeking a court ruling declaring that Pence had the power to unilaterally reject Biden’s electoral votes, but DOJ’s civil division — then under Clark’s leadership — stepped in to defend Pence against the suit, which failed.
“[H]e’s not thrilled with your decision regarding Pence and Gohmert,” Perry texted.
Clark responded, “The branch within Civil Division responsible for Gohmert brief refused to have anything to do with my brief.”
“Folks are rebelling against [POTUS] because they know time is short and they yearn for Biden,” he added.
Clark has pointed to his involvement in the Gohmert suit he defends himself against criminal charges brought against him by Georgia prosecutors.
“I was in charge of the defense of this 2020 presidential election case and my name is the first one on the filings defending the Vice President,” he wrote in a September declaration.
On Wednesday evening, a spokeswoman for Clark said the former DOJ official had never disclaimed responsibility for the Justice Department brief that helped Pence fend off Gohmert’s lawsuit.
“True to form, POLITICO is taking a piece of the story and spinning a fake narrative worthy of regime accolades,” the spokeswoman said.
The newly disclosed exchanges also include Perry’s contacts with other House members seeking to reverse Trump’s defeat or to raise challenges to the election results. Perry texted Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) on Nov. 7, 2020 that there was “concrete evidence” of fraud in Michigan. The same day and on Nov. 8, Perry “exchanged text messages with Congressmen Hice, Jordan, and Roy, about issues with ‘the Dominion voting system,’ prompting comment from Rep. Hice, ‘YES!! ... And don’t forget, on the Trump campaign call this afternoon, they have uncovered ‘illegal ballot harvesting’ in 3 GA counties,’” the filing reveals.
And Perry also exchanged texts with then Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who complained about “incompetence here in Georgia,” prompting Perry to respond, “Nothing can beat effective cheating.”
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.