Pennsylvania congressman told to hand over hundreds of texts and emails to FBI in 2020 election probe

Pennsylvania election
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., chair of the House Freedom Caucus, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 14, 2023.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File

By MARC LEVY Associated Press

A federal judge is ordering Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania to turn over more than 1,600 texts and emails to FBI agents investigating efforts to keep President Donald Trump in office after his 2020 election loss and illegally block the transfer of power to Democrat Joe Biden.

The ruling, late Monday, came more than a year after Perry’s personal cellphone was seized by federal authorities. The decision, by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, is largely in line with an earlier finding by a federal judge that Perry appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Boasberg, in a 12-page decision, said that, after viewing each record, he decided that Perry, a top Trump ally, can withhold 396 of the messages under the constitution’s speech and debate clause that protects the work of members of Congress.

Pennsylvania election
House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., speaks as he joins members of the conservative faction at a press event outside the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 12, 2023.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

However, the other 1,659 records do not involve legislative acts and must be disclosed, Boasberg ruled. That includes efforts to influence members of the executive branch, discussions about Vice President Mike Pence’s role in certifying the election and providing information about alleged election fraud.

Perry’s lawyer, John Rowley, did not immediately respond to a query about whether he will appeal. In the past, Rowley has said that government officials have never described Perry to him as a target of their investigation.

Perry is chairman of the Freedom Caucus, a hardline faction of conservatives. Perry has not been charged with a crime and is the only sitting member of Congress whose cellphone was seized by the FBI in the 2020 election investigation.

Perry’s efforts to protect the contents of his cell phone have proceeded largely in secret, except in recent weeks when snippets and short summaries of his texts and emails were inadvertently unsealed — and then resealed — by the federal court.

Those messages revealed more about where Perry may fit in the web of Trump loyalists who were central to his bid to remain in power.

Making Perry a figure of interest to federal prosecutors were his efforts to elevate Jeffrey Clark to Trump’s acting attorney general in late 2020.

Perry, in the past, has said he merely “obliged” Trump’s request that he be introduced to Clark. At the time, Trump was searching for a like-minded successor to use the Department of Justice to help stall the certification of Biden’s election victory.

But the messages suggest that Perry was a key ally for Clark, who positioned himself as someone who would reverse the Department of Justice’s stance that it had found no evidence of widespread voting fraud.

To that end, Clark had drafted a letter that he suggested sending to Georgia saying the Department of Justice had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the state of Georgia,” according to the August indictment in that state accusing Trump, Clark and 17 others of trying illegally to keep him in power.

At the time, Clark was the assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and served as the acting head of the Civil Division.

The showdown over Clark brought the Justice Department to the brink of crisis, prosecutors have said, and Trump ultimately backed down after he was told that it would result in mass resignations at the Justice Department and his own White House counsel’s office.

Clark is now described in the federal indictment of Trump as one of six unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators in an effort to illegally subvert the 2020 election.