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Western PA Republicans Kelly, DeMarco drawn into ‘fake elector’ controversies as Jan. 6 hearings continue

  • Chris Potter/WESA
U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, whose district extends from Butler County north to Erie, has long been a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, who spoke at a rally on his behalf in 2018. Kelly also played a large role in efforts to challenge election results in Pennsylvania as a plaintiff in an unsuccessful election lawsuit appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Caroline Brehman / AP Photo

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, whose district extends from Butler County north to Erie, has long been a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, who spoke at a rally on his behalf in 2018. Kelly also played a large role in efforts to challenge election results in Pennsylvania as a plaintiff in an unsuccessful election lawsuit appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The name of western Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Kelly has surfaced in a controversy regarding an abortive effort to present false slates of electors as Congress was certifying the outcome of the 2020 election.

News of the slates caused a firestorm during the June 21 hearing of the special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol. Evidence made public during that hearing suggested that a staffer for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin inquired about furnishing Vice President Mike Pence with slates of fake electors for the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, which could have reversed Joe Biden’s win in those states.

“Do not give that to him,” the Pence aide texted back.

Pence was, in fact, not given the slates. And in the firestorm that ensued after this week’s disclosures, Johnson claimed that his office’s involvement was minimal — and that he didn’t know where the material had come from.

“We got handed an envelope,” he told CNN. “Somebody from the House, some staff intern” gave it to his staff, he said. And the matter ended once Pence’s office waved the slates off.

But on Thursday, Johnson gave an interview to Milwaukee radio station WISN in which he said, “We found out now that this came from Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Kelly’s office — we couldn’t even remember who delivered this to us.”

The interview followed a story by conservative journalist John Solomon, who reported that shortly before the certification process began on Jan. 6, “a Trump campaign official asked a Pennsylvania congressman to help get the alternate slate to Pence. The Congressman, GOP Rep. Mike Kelly … called a Wisconsin lawyer named James Troupis, who knew Johnson and related the message to the Senator.”

Solomon’s story does not identify the Trump official in question. Nor is it clear why a Pennsylvania congressman would be involved in electoral slates from other states — let alone what part, if any, he played in furnishing the slates — or what, if any, connection exists between Kelly and Troupis.

“Senator Johnson’s statements about Representative Kelly are patently false,” said a spokesman for Kelly. “Mr. Kelly has not spoken to Sen. Johnson for the better part of a decade, and he has no knowledge of the claims Mr. Johnson is making related to the 2020 election.”

Troupis did not respond to a call and an email seeing comment, and Johnson’s office did not respond to a call.

Troupis was active in Trump’s legal efforts to challenge election results in Wisconsin last year. Kelly, whose district extends from Butler County north to Erie, has long been a strong supporter of Trump, who spoke at a rally on his behalf in 2018. Kelly also played a large role in efforts to challenge election results in Pennsylvania as a plaintiff in an unsuccessful election lawsuit appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Meanwhile, there were other signs Thursday that the Jan.6 investigation was hitting close to home. Sam DeMarco, who chairs the Republican Committee of Allegheny County, confirmed that he spoke with FBI agents about an effort to create an alternative slate of electors from Pennsylvania.

Unlike the efforts that took place in other states, Pennsylvania Republicans made clear that their slate was to be used only if the electors chosen by voters were tossed out by future legal action. The state Republican Party issued a release about the move, calling it a “procedural vote” that was “in no way an effort to usurp or contest the will of the Pennsylvania voters.” It was instead a “conditional resolution” to be used only if the existing slate was set aside.

The fact that FBI agents spoke to DeMarco does not mean he is under investigation himself. In January, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat whose gubernatorial campaign has made voting rights a central concern, acknowledged to CNN that while the GOP’s move was “intentionally misleading and … damaging to our democracy, based on our initial review, our office does not believe this meets the legal standards for forgery.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Thursday that FBI agents spoke to DeMarco for an hour and presented him with a subpoena for communications involving other electors and Trump campaign and legal staff. DeMarco was among the alternate electors listed for Pennsylvania.

In a statement after the story was published online, DeMarco reiterated that his “conduct was open, above board, and predicated solely on protecting President Trump’s legal rights should he prevail in court.”

DeMarco, who said he believed he was speaking to the Post-Gazette off-record, said the news was “a very routine story being played out across the country as the Biden Justice Department hunts Republicans.”

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