While other Republicans garnered more attention in attempting to convince the country that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, Rep. Scott Perry made the critical connection linking the then-president to Jeffrey Clark, a little-known Department of Justice official open to debunked claims of widespread fraud.
Perry’s role in undermining the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election victory has become increasingly clear in the months since Election Day, dividing Republicans in his Harrisburg-based district and giving Democrats hope of knocking off the five-term congressman in 2022.
On December 1, Attorney General William Barr declared that the Justice Department had not found any evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the election. As Trump struggled to find support for his election fraud claims in the Justice Department, Perry connected Trump with Clark, the acting chief of the civil division and a Philadelphia native, according to The New York Times. Clark and Trump would later come close to ousting the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and replacing him with Clark, according to documents and testimony from former Justice Department officials.
Perry also passed along documents to the Justice Department in December that alleged there were “more votes counted than voters who voted” in Pennsylvania, according to a recently released batch of emails by the House Oversight Committee.
That same day, Trump mentioned Perry’s name in a call with the Justice Department, where he instructed officials to “Just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen,” according to acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue’s notes.
Perry did not respond to CNN’s repeated requests for comment. In January, after the Times reported Perry’s role in aiding Trump to contest the election, the congressman said in a statement that he “obliged” the former President’s request to meet Clark.
“My conversations with the President or the Assistant Attorney General, as they have been with all with whom I’ve engaged following the election, were a reiteration of the many concerns about the integrity of our elections, and that those allegations should at least be investigated to ease the minds of the voters that they had, indeed, participated in a free and fair election,” he said.
Perry, a member of the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus, was a strong – if little-known – ally in Trump’s efforts to contest Biden’s victory. He attended “Stop the Steal” rallies, and supported a lawsuit seeking to nullify Biden’s wins in battleground states. And Perry led in Congress the objection to certifying the results in Pennsylvania, hours after a mob attacked the Capitol to prevent Congress from doing just that. (Perry condemned the deadly violence as “unacceptable and criminal,” and said he accepted the results while maintaining that “constitutional violations occurred in Pennsylvania’s electoral process.”)
“I don’t understand if there’s criminal activity present—fraud – that’s criminal activity, why we don’t look at that,” said Perry in December, days before the Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit.
Democrats are outraged over Perry’s actions, and officials have called for his resignation. Months ago, Perry swatted down their calls in a one-word press release: “No.” After Biden took office, Perry voted against creating an independent commission or a select committee in Congress to investigate the January 6 riot. In June, Perry voted with 20 other House Republicans against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who defended the Capitol.
So far, Perry does not have a major challenger in his 2022 race, although a Republican, Brian Allen, is launching a campaign to defeat Perry in a primary.
Eugene DePasquale, the former state Auditor General who lost to Perry by about seven points last year, told CNN he is “strongly considering” a rematch.
“I believe my leadership will unite the region and grow the economy for everyone,” said the Pennsylvania Democrat. “Mr. Perry, on the other hand, has shown repeatedly how extreme he is.”
“He wouldn’t even support the Capitol officers who protected him, downplayed the virus and was a key architect in trying to overthrow the election,” he added.
But Republicans in Perry’s district described the Congressman as a dogged campaigner who easily connects with voters. They admired his plainspoken style and humble upbringing, often noting his cash-strapped childhood and how he worked his way up, served in the military and went on to the Pennsylvania legislature and, later, Congress. Local officials said Perry often pops up at community picnics and drops by local businesses.
Still, Perry’s lingering skepticism about the 2020 election has split Republicans in his district, although many of his allies are unfazed by his role in Trump’s quest to overturn the election.
“One man introduces another man to a third man,” said Jeff Piccola, a local county Republican official. “Where is that illegal or improper or inappropriate?”
“There’s a lot of suspicion that things in the election didn’t go right because there was some shenanigans going on,” he added.
But not all of Perry’s supporters agree with his unwavering support for Trump, who garnered about 51% of the vote in Pennsylvania’s 10th congressional district in 2020.
“We have to appeal to a large number of swing voters if we want to win in Pennsylvania,” said Gary Eichelberger, who oversaw Cumberland County’s elections on the board of commissioners. “Doubling down on the divisiveness is a potential death sentence for the Republican Party.”
Rob Gleason, former head of the Republican party in Pennsylvania, said voters are still confused about the multitude of changes the state made in its election administration for the 2020 election cycle, including rules allowing no-excuse absentee voting. The change led to an avalanche of mail-in ballots. In the days it took to count the ballots, Trump supporters watched the former President’s lead wane as Joe Biden’s numbers ticked up. CNN and other news outlets called the Keystone state for Biden on November 7, an electoral vote tally that clinched his presidential victory four days after Election Day.
“People can’t get over that. They don’t understand the whole process,” Gleason said. “So there’s a lot of doubt in people’s minds in Pennsylvania about the veracity of that election and elections moving forward.”
Lou Capozzi, chair of the Cumberland County Republican Committee, said there are some Trump-supporters in Pennsylvania who still believe the election was stolen, but he said that the “fervor has died down.”
“There’s probably a fairly vocal minority, but I think they’re the minority,” said Capozzi.
Capozzi said rather than looking in the rearview at November 2020 or the events of January 6th, it’s time for the party to look ahead. “Now we just need to move forward,” Capozzi said. “That will benefit everybody.”