Jan. 6 hearing exposes scope of pressure, threats against Pa. lawmaker
PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler received daily phone calls from former President Donald Trump’s lawyers and saw protests outside his house amid a pressure campaign to overturn the results of the state’s 2020 presidential election, he told the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks.
“All of my personal information was doxxed online,” Cutler said in an excerpt of a video interview with the committee that was conducted earlier this year and played Tuesday. “It was my personal email, my personal cellphone, my home phone. In fact, we had to disconnect our home phone for about three days because it would ring all hours of the night and fill up with messages.”
His testimony was featured at the start of the committee’s fourth public hearing on efforts by Trump and his allies to reverse the outcome of the vote that denied him a second term in office.
A ‘pressure campaign’: The focus of Tuesday’s hearing was what committee chairman U.S. Rep. Bernie Thompson, D-Miss., described as a “pressure campaign” on state elections officials and lawmakers to reject Joe Biden’s victory and illegally appoint pro-Trump electors in defiance of the will of the voters.
“Democratic institutions aren’t abstractions or ideals,” Thompson said in his opening remarks. “They’re local officials … people in whom we place our trust that they’ll carry out their duties.”
Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster County who has served as state House Speaker since 2020, has previously said he received at least two phone calls from Trump himself in the final week of that November. But he has remained relatively tight-lipped about his interaction with the wider network of Trump supporters and his testimony to the Jan. 6 committee.
In introducing clips from his testimony Tuesday, committee investigators said Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis called Cutler daily during the same period, looking to push a baseless theory that state legislatures could set aside election results based on unsupported suspicions of fraud and appoint a new slate of Electoral College delegates.
Cutler largely avoided the calls, thinking they were inappropriate, committee investigators said. He had his attorneys respond, asking Giuliani and Ellis to stop contacting him.
That didn’t stop them.
“I understand if you don’t want to talk to me now,” Giuliani said in one voice message left on Cutler’s phone played by the committee. “I just want to bring some facts to your attention and talk to you as a fellow Republican.”
‘We’re outside’: On Dec. 30, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon used his podcast to call for a protest outside of Cutler’s home. It was one of at least three demonstrations outside his house and district office that Cutler described for committee investigators.
“My 15-year-old son was home by himself,” the House speaker said.
In one voicemail Cutler received that was played by the committee Tuesday, an unidentified woman intoned: “Bryan Cutler, we’re outside.”
Ultimately, Cutler and Pennsylvania’s other top Republican leaders resisted Trump’s entreaties to throw out Biden’s victory in the state — and his emissaries made fewer inroads here than they did in other battleground states like Georgia and Arizona, which were the primary focus of Tuesday’s hearing.
Witnesses who testified live during the proceedings included Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, both Republicans from states targeted by similar efforts.
Mastriano’s role: Still, the committee highlighted other efforts by Trump and his allies in Pennsylvania, including invitations to State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the current GOP nominee for governor, and other lawmakers to visit the White House in November and December 2020.
Mastriano, who in the post-election period emerged as one of the most vocal supporters of Trump’s election lies, visited the White House in late November. That same day, he’d hosted a raucous Senate committee hearing in Gettysburg at which Giuliani, Ellis and others spread false claims of widespread fraud.
In a clip highlighted by the committee Tuesday, Ellis held a cell phone to the microphone as Trump called into the hearing.
“This election has to be turned around because we won Pennsylvania by a lot,” the president said. “And we won all of these states by a lot.”
Mastriano headed to the White House hours afterward, but abruptly left after testing positive for COVID-19. Two days later, he appeared on Bannon’s podcast, vowing to seat a slate of electors that would support Trump. He later circulated a legislative memo in support of the idea and introduced a resolution in the state Senate. That effort stalled in a committee and was never voted on.
False electors: Trump’s supporters pursued the plan anyway and submitted a false slate of so-called presidential electors to Congress, as they did in other competitive swing states.
Among those who signed onto the scheme were Sam DeMarco, chair of the Allegheny County Republican Party; Pat Poprick, the Bucks County GOP chair; and Andy Reilly, Pennsylvania’s Republican national committeeman.
But the Pennsylvania slate — which included some of the state’s most prominent Republican leaders — received less attention, in part because its organizers inserted a caveat in the document that they were standing ready to serve only in the event of a court order recognizing them as the rightful Pennsylvania electors.
As a result, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, concluded that while the Pennsylvania slate of Trump electors was misleading, it likely did not constitute a crime.
Shapiro, who is running against Mastriano for governor, sought to capitalize on Tuesday’s hearing, noting that the state senator had recently named Ellis, who is not licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, as a senior legal adviser to his campaign.
“Like Giuliani,” Shapiro said in a tweet, “she’ll bring lies and a blatant disregard for the new law to Pennsylvania.”
Mastriano has submitted documents and agreed to be interviewed by the committee, but he has received only scant mention in proceedings so far.
Cutler’s actions: For his part, Cutler resisted the type of action Trump, Giuliani, and Ellis were advocating in late 2020. He told the Washington Post in December of that year that he told the president during one of their phone calls that the state legislature had “no power to overturn the state’s chosen slate of electors.”
Still, Cutler and more than
60 other Republican state lawmakers signed a letter urging Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation in Washington to challenge the state’s electoral votes ahead of the Jan. 6 joint session at which Congress certified
Biden’s victory. They claimed Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration had provided guidance to county elections officials that went beyond the scope of state election law.
A spokesperson for Cutler declined on Tuesday to comment on the House speaker’s testimony before the Jan. 6 committee.
(Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.)