Scott Blanchard is Director of Journalism at WITF and oversees StateImpact Pennsylvania, an award-winning public media collaboration among WITF, WHYY in Philadelphia, and The Allegheny Front in Pittsburgh that covers the state’s energy economy.
Blanchard was named StateImpact editor in 2017, and in 2021 became senior editor for WITF and StateImpact. He was named WITF's journalism director in February 2022. Previously, he was enterprise editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record, where he led the newsroom’s investigative and projects reporting. He was a 2013 Ochberg Fellow, receiving training at Columbia University in PTSD science, self-help and peer support. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Society of News Editors. A Rockville, Md., native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri’s journalism school.
Andrew Harnik / AP Photo
FILE PHOTO: In this Oct. 8, 2019 file photo, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. from Pennsylvania's 10th U.S. Congressional District, appears before reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Rep. Scott Perry, a fifth-term Republican who represents Dauphin and portions of York and Cumberland counties, has acknowledged being involved in President Trump’s attempt to overturn legally certified election results in Georgia. Here’s what we know, and don’t, about what happened and Perry’s role:
Perry “played a significant role in the crisis that played out at the top of the Justice Department this month, when Mr. Trump considered firing the acting attorney general and backed down only after top department officials threatened to resign en masse.”
Perry “first made Trump aware” of Jeffrey Clark, the acting chief of DOJ’s civil division, who was “sympathetic” to Trump’s claims “that the election had been stolen.” Clark’s boss, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, did not share Trump’s beliefs.
Trump spoke with Clark several times without Rosen’s knowledge, in violation of Justice Department policy.
“As the date for Congress to affirm Mr. Biden’s victory neared,” the Times reported, “Mr. Perry and Mr. Clark discussed a plan to have the Justice Department send a letter to Georgia state lawmakers informing them of an investigation into voter fraud that could invalidate the state’s Electoral College results.”
Yuri Gripas / Pool via AP
FILE PHOTO: Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on Oct. 21, 2020.
What is Rep. Scott Perry’s response?
Perry released a statement Jan. 25 in which he confirmed key parts of the Times’ reporting. He admitted that he introduced Clark to Trump, and that he, Clark and Trump discussed election fraud issues.
Perry said Trump asked him for the introduction to Clark. And Perry said he became involved because election-fraud allegations “should at least be investigated to ease the minds of the voters that they had, indeed, participated in a free and fair election.”
Perry’s explanation of his involvement is based on factual inaccuracies. What are they?
County, state and federal judges and public officials of both political parties, and election experts, have concluded the 2020 election was free and fair.
In Georgia specifically, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Trump forced out the U.S. Attorney for Northern Georgia because he was frustrated that he had found no election fraud. Trump appointed a replacement, who said on Jan. 12 that, “I closed the two most — I don’t know, I guess you’d call them high profile or the two most pressing election issues this office has. I said I believe, as many of the people around the table believed, there’s just nothing to them.”
Many Trump supporters have framed their arguments as about ensuring election integrity and answering widespread public questions about fraud. But those arguments grew out of Trump’s pre-election lies, including at the Republican National Convention, when he said, “The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.” That election-fraud lie was sustained and amplified by Perry and other Trump supporters, including well after votes were counted and it was clear Joe Biden had won. State and federal officials have said allegations of widespread fraud or election irregularities are not true.
President Trump’s election-fraud lie caused many of his supporters to believe incorrectly that the election had been stolen, and it led to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
What don’t we know about what happened between Trump, Perry and Clark?
When did Perry introduce Clark to Trump? The Times reports only that it was in late December when Clark made his boss, Rosen, aware that he had spoken with Trump.
Did the three men meet together? Did Perry and/or Clark make Trump aware of the letter-writing plan?
What is the timeline of the conversations among the three men?
What are the details of how Perry knew Clark, and what is the nature of their personal or professional relationship? In Perry’s Jan. 25 statement, he said he and Clark had worked together “on various legislative matters” during Perry’s time in Congress. But he did not specify what those matters were.
How will this affect Perry’s voter support in the 10th District? His support shrunk after a 2018 redistricting, but ticked up in 2020. The day before the November election, the nonpartisan Cook Report rated the 10th a tossup. But Perry won by almost 26,000 votes over Democrat Eugene DePasquale — more than 53 percent of the total. Perry’s margin increased from 2018, when he beat Democrat George Scott by about 7,700 votes (51.3 percent) in the first election since a court-ordered redistricting in Pennsylvania that, among other things, added more Democratic-leaning communities to the district. Because of redistricting, the 10th could change again ahead of 2022, when Perry is next up for re-election. Perry won in 2012, 2014 and 2016 by huge margins.
Could Perry’s actions be illegal?
Election-law expert James Gardner, Bridget and Thomas Black SUNY Distinguished Professor of Law, Research Professor of Political Science at the University of Buffalo School of Law: “…from the information publicly available, although the Congressman’s behavior seems reckless and unethical, I don’t see anything illegal. It’s not against the law for a member of Congress to communicate with members of the executive branch or to facilitate connections among like-minded people, though it was clearly a breach of DOJ protocol for the AAG to bypass the chain of supervision. I worked at DOJ during the Reagan Administration, and my impression back then was that such behavior would have been considered a firing offense. But that doesn’t implicate the Congressman. The only even potential criminal violation I could see would be some kind of conspiracy to violate Georgia election law involving all three of these actors, but that is extremely dependent on the precise facts.”