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The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Anna Orso, Julia Terruso and Jesse Bunch

What the Jan. 6 report says about key Pennsylvania Republicans

PHILADELPHIA — Former President Donald Trump had extensive communications with top Pennsylvania Republicans in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, as part of his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, according to an 814-page report released late Thursday by a House committee.

While the pressure on Pennsylvania GOP leaders has been well documented, the House Jan. 6. Committee’s final report details the extent of Trump’s direct communication with legislative leaders and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, underscoring the former president’s fixation on the Keystone State.

The report, along with interview transcripts released in recent days, also adds key details about the involvement of Republican Congressman Scott Perry, attorney Jeffrey Clark and others.

The report comes after the bipartisan panel interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses, held 10 hearings, and obtained millions of pages of documents examining the violent riot at the Capitol and the weeks leading up to it.

The witnesses — ranging from Trump’s closest aides to law enforcement to some of the rioters themselves — detailed Trump’s actions and those of key Republicans in Pennsylvania. Here are some of the new details.

—Mastriano’s close contact with Trump ahead of Jan. 6

It has long been known that Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor who lost in November, was a key asset for Trump’s team in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

But the report lays bare the extent of his conversations, showing he was in direct contact with the former president several times in the lead-up to the Capitol attack, and wanted to pressure Vice President Mike Pence on Trump’s behalf.

The pair were communicating via email and phone through December. On Dec. 5, 2020, Mastriano sent a message to the president’s assistant that included a Supreme Court brief that they “discussed yesterday.” The paperwork was to support a lawsuit against Pennsylvania brought by U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, a Western Pennsylvania Republican. The lawsuit sought to throw out all mail ballots and was dismissed within days.

On Dec. 14, Trump’s assistant sent Mastriano an email “from POTUS” that included talking points about an election-machine conspiracy theory.

A week later, Mastriano sent an email back, writing: “Dear Mr. President — attached please find the ‘killer letter’ on the Pennsylvania election that we discussed last night.”

The letter recapped an unofficial “hearing” Mastriano convened in Gettysburg that purported to uncover election fraud. Trump had planned to attend the gathering, according to the report, but canceled after several advisers tested positive for COVID-19. He called in instead.

The former president sent the letter to a half-dozen people, including attorney John Eastman, acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, and radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

After Mastriano led a group of lawmakers to the White House on Dec. 23, 2020, he sent emails suggesting he and Trump had spoken on Dec. 27, 28, and 30. One email included letters to congressional Republicans asking them to reject Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.

According to the committee, Trump spoke to Mastriano on Jan. 5, then told the White House operator that Mastriano would be “calling in for the vice president.”

It’s unclear if that call happened. Mastriano did send two emails on behalf of Trump the night of Jan. 5. One was signed by state legislators from across the country and asked Pence to delay ratifying the election for 12 days.

The second was a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from Pennsylvania Republicans, asking them to postpone the Jan. 6 proceedings.

Mastriano was subpoenaed to testify. According to the committee, the information he provided was not “substantive.”

—New details revealed about pressure campaign on Pa. GOP leaders

For whatever cooperation Trump was able to get out of Mastriano, he did not find the same assistance from Pennsylvania legislative leaders, who rebuffed his efforts to get them to nominate a slate of fake electors.

The report details the intense pressure on those Republicans: House Speaker Bryan Cutler, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward.

All were named on a list of “TARGETS” prepared by Trump’s team. Cutler and Corman testified to the committee.

Among the new details was a recounting by Cutler of a Dec. 3 conversation he had with Trump at the White House. The president also invited Corman, who declined.

Cutler had already spoken via phone with the president in late November. According to the report, Cutler explained that the state constitution doesn’t allow retroactive changes to how electors are chosen.

On Dec. 3, Cutler told Trump that he couldn’t reconvene the Legislature to nominate new electors, according to the committee. He said he told Trump that appointing new electors would require a court order and that Trump “seemed to understand.”

The same day, Republican leaders issued a statement saying the Legislature could not “overturn the popular vote and appoint our own slate of electors.”

The next day, Trump retweeted a post calling them “traitors.”

Cutler, Benninghoff, and dozens of House Republicans signed a letter that asked Congress members to object to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. Cutler told the committee he signed it not because of election fraud, but due to concerns about “programmatic changes or areas for improvement.”

The pressure campaign lodged by Trump and his team also targeted state Senate leaders.

Corman told the committee that attorney Rudy Giuliani called him on Thanksgiving 2020 asking him to call the Legislature back to nominate Trump electors. Corman said he and his lawyers didn’t believe he had the authority.

Days later, Corman was in Florida for vacation when he received a call from an unknown number in Washington, D.C. He ignored it. It was the White House. Trump wanted to talk to him.

Corman told the committee that he called Trump back, recalling the president saying he won Pennsylvania and adding, “Jake, this is a big issue. We need your help.” When Corman explained he couldn’t do what Trump wanted, Trump replied, “I’m not sure your attorneys are very good.”

Ward told The New York Times that she also received a call from Trump to say that the election results were fraudulent.

—Scott Perry’s role connecting Trump to a Philadelphia attorney to promote election lies

The report describes U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, as a “key congressional ally,” in Trump’s plot to overturn the election.

Perry was recommended for ethics charges by the committee Monday for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

He connected Trump to Jeffrey Clark, a Philadelphia-reared environmental lawyer, who Perry promoted as someone willing to sanction false claims that had already been dismissed by law enforcement in an attempt to block certification of the election.

Perry was an early supporter of the “Stop the Steal” campaign and one of 27 Republican congressmen who signed a letter requesting Trump appoint a special counsel to investigate irregularities in the 2020 election. He attended a Dec. 21 Oval Office meeting with 10 other congressional Republicans where they strategized objecting to the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6.

The report includes new details of conversations Perry had with top DOJ officials in spreading misinformation and advocating for Clark to be appointed attorney general.

After introducing Clark to the President, Perry sent multiple text messages to Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows between Dec. 26 and Dec. 28, pressing for Clark’s elevation within the department.

Perry told Meadows in one text, there are only “11 days to 1/6 ... We gotta get going!,” and, later asked, “Did you call Jeff Clark?”

In an exchange on Dec. 27, Perry emailed acting United States Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, alleging that election authorities had counted 205,000 more votes than were cast. There was no discrepancy in the vote count, though.

Clark attempted to sow doubt about the election by circulating a draft letter on DOJ letterhead addressed to state officials in Georgia. It said the department had identified “significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election.” And it urged the Georgia Legislature to convene a special session to select an alternate slate of pro-Trump electors.

Donoghue blasted the draft in an email, shared with the committee: “(T)here’s no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this,” he wrote, warning that sending it, “could have tremendous Constitutional, political and social ramifications for the country.”

Clark, a Harvard graduate who attended Father Judge Catholic High School before launching his career in Washington, spoke to the committee last year. His testimony was released Wednesday, two days after the committee accused Clark of conspiring with former President Donald Trump to defraud the United States government and included him in a list of people referred for possible criminal prosecution.

In a statement released through his attorney, Clark called the committee “a carefully crafted hit squad.”

“The Committee is desperately trying to make a splash with criminal referrals it was obvious from the very start its members were going to make in an effort to try to destroy their conservative political opponents.”

A Perry spokesman, meanwhile, called the report “a meaningless codification from a deliriously partisan witch hunt, hellbent on character assassination and distracting Americans from the utterly dismal record of President Biden and one-party rule.”

—Pa. rioters played prominent roles in the day’s violence

A handful of Pennsylvanians played prominent roles in the day’s violence, which led to four deaths as well as hundreds of injuries of law enforcement officials, the report documents. It cites Zach Rehl, president of the Proud Boys’ Philadelphia chapter, as a leader in the attack. Rehl donned “incognito” clothing that morning before leading at least 200-300 of the group’s members from the Washington Monument to the Capitol that afternoon, the report states.

It was there that Rehl — dubbed “Captain Trump” in the report — and the group played a key role in removing the barricades set by U.S. Capitol police, egging Trump-supporters to storm the building and inciting the bloody clash.

Proud Boys members, led in part by Rehl, were responsible for removing the fencing surrounding the Capitol shortly before the larger mass of pro-Trump supporters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue and arrived at the “Peace Circle” monument on the Northwestern side of the building, according to the report. It was this effort that allowed the mob to “enter the Capitol with ease.”

One of those rioters was Bristol native Ryan Samsel, accused of “throwing the first punch” in the attack. Samsel grouped near the barricades with his arms around Joe Biggs, another senior Proud Boys leader, the report said. It was Biggs who would flash a firearm at Samsel and who “questioned his manhood,” as he demanded Samsel push to the front of the crowd and challenge the police.

Minutes later, Samsel and other rioters pushed police officers to the ground, one falling so hard she hit her head on the concrete steps. The report later implicates members of the far-right group America First in the assault, including Riley Williams, the 23-year-old Harrisburg woman who aided the theft of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop after Williams “directed rioters” up the Capitol’s steps and into the speaker’s vacant office.

—Philadelphia election workers’ harassment

Philadelphia was the epicenter of Trump’s attack on the state’s election system and the report details threats made to local election officials stemming from Trump’s disinformation campaign, some of which has been reported.

Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt described a deluge of threatening and harassing phone calls and emails after he publicly debunked Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s allegations of election fraud and Trump tweeted about him.

Schmidt’s deputy, Seth Bluestein, now a city commissioner, said he also received threats, many of them antisemitic. Bluestein said he had to get a security detail for his home and that the experience gave his 3-year-old daughter nightmares.

Philadelphia City Commissioner Omar Sabir said he he spent several nights away from his home and continued to receive death threats for a year after the 2020 election. Commissioner Lisa Deeley also had her life threatened and said she suffers occasional anxiety attacks.

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