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Scott Perry, in the center of a Jan. 6 storm, insists he's a simple man

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

In a conversation at Lighthouse Baptist Church in September 2020, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry described himself as a simple man.

"For all of us, we all find our way the best that we each can," Perry said.

Now in his fifth term in Congress, Perry has earned a reputation as a hard-line conservative. That included chairing the House Freedom Caucus, considered the most conservative and right-wing bloc of Republicans. Recently, the caucus began urging lawmakers to not allow President Joe Biden to spend "one penny more" unless he changes the current border policies.

But Perry's actions leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and his work behind the scenes to undermine the 2020 election, have taken the spotlight away from his previous work on conservative causes. They also led to criticism, including from his 2022 Democratic challenger Shamaine Daniels, that he is focused on partisan politics at the expense of his constituents.

It's a charge Perry vehemently denies.

"Like many south-central Pennsylvanians, I'm very concerned about the direction of our country and I want to do something about it," he said in a recent interview, "and I do think I'm the best choice." 

In the wake of the 2020 election, Perry was among the loudest voices in Pennsylvania claiming — without basis — that Biden's election was illegitimate. That included making the formal objection to certifying Pennsylvania's electoral votes just hours after the attack on the U.S. Capitol. He also signed on to a letter and lawsuits seeking to have the election results of Pennsylvania and several other states thrown out.

To this day, Perry says he still has doubts about the election.

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"I think that many people in our community have concerns about their confidence in the election and the integrity of our elections, and rightly so," he said at a recent event in Harrisburg. "On their behalf, as their representative, their questions need to be answered." 

That's despite a lack of evidence to support such claims. A Senate Judiciary report last year documented Perry's involvement in efforts to slant the election toward former President Donald Trump.

Leading up to that election, Perry was in constant communication with then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Among other things, he reportedly pushed something dubbed "Italygate," a baseless conspiracy theory that an Italian defense contractor had conspired with senior CIA officials to use military satellites to flip votes from Trump to Biden.

Perry also recommended former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark, investigators said. Clark's job had nothing to do with elections, but he was touted as someone who could assist with attempts to subvert the 2020 election.

“He wanted Mr. Clark – Mr. Jeff Clark to take over the Department of Justice,” former Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson said about Perry, in testimony played before the House Select Committee. 

Perry signed on to an amicus brief to have the Supreme Court invalidate Biden's victory in certain states, spoke against the certification of Pennsylvania's electoral slate and voted against it. He also reportedly forwarded claims of election fraud to Richard Donoghue, the former deputy to then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

Those claims were found to be false by Western District of Pennsylvania District Attorney Scott Brady.

"Brady informed Donoghue that the claims 'were not well founded,'" the Senate Judiciary report reads. "For example, Brady explained that there were not actually more votes certified than voters; in reality, the database analyzed by proponents of this false claim was missing data from four Pennsylvania counties."

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Perry is now suing the Department of Justice over the seizure of his phone in August, one day after agents searched former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

"What happened here isn't about January of 2021. This is about Nov. 8, 2022," Perry said in a recent interview with The York Dispatch. "There's absolutely nothing I can do about the overreach and abuse of power by the Biden administration."

Perry has also been accused of seeking a preemptive pardon from Trump, which he has denied repeatedly.

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., greets then-President Donald Trump after Air Force One landed at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania in May 2020. (Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

As he prepares for the 2022 U.S. District 10 general election, the Republican incumbent finds himself in the center of a political storm that includes allegations of treason due to his actions leading up to and following the 2020 election.

"Someone like Scott Perry shouldn't be allowed to be our representative, because he's betrayed his oath of office," Daniels, his opponent, said in a July interview with The York Dispatch.

Multiple rallies and protests have condemned Perry for his actions, including on the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Perry, who has strenuously denied the Jan. 6-related allegations, told The York Dispatch he doesn't waffle.

He said he takes positions on issues and fights for what he believes south-central Pennsylvanians care about.

Yet earlier this year, Perry voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would among its protections include same-sex marriage.  He then encouraged Senate Republicans not to vote for the bill in his role as head of the House Freedom Caucus.

Shamaine Daniels, of Harrisburg, is shown in Harrisburg, Thursday, June 23, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

When asked about this in a recent interview, Perry blamed Democrats, saying it hadn't come through committee and had gone straight to the floor for a vote.

"I was given a Hobson's choice of voting against traditional marriage or voting against interracial marriage, and obviously I'm not against either one of those," Perry said. "That's the way the Democrats set it up, for that Hobson's choice and I made the best choice that I could under the conditions."

Hobson's choice refers to a situation in which only one option is actually offered. For example, saying "take it or leave it" is a Hobson's choice — one where leaving is set up as the wrong decision.

When asked why he didn't abstain rather than voting for or against the bill, Perry bristled at the idea.

"You don't go to Congress to abstain," he said. "You go to Congress to vote on tough things. You vote yes or no." 

 Perry defended his vote as assisting ordinary Americans at the time.

“Agree or disagree with same-sex marriage, my vote affirmed my long-held belief that Americans who enter into legal agreements deserve to live their lives without the threat that our federal government will dissolve what they‘ve built," he previously told the York Daily Record.

A 1980 graduate of Northern High School, Perry is open about his origins. Born in 1962, he told PennLive he has no memory of living in the same house with his father, Jim. 

His mother, Cecille, moved the family to Pennsylvania and eventually to Carroll Township.

"When we moved in there was no electricity, there was no insulation, there was no running water," Perry said in an interview with The York Dispatch. The family used an outhouse, had a hand-pumped well for water and took baths in a steel drum.

"We were flooded out twice during Agnes and Eloise, and what we didn't have, my mom made up for by teaching us the great values of the people in York County: to work hard, show up on time with a good attitude, respect others and be responsible for yourself." 

After graduating from Northern High School and Cumberland-Perry Vocational/Technical School with an auto mechanics certification, Perry joined the National Guard in 1980. He retired from the military in 2019 as a brigadier general after more than 35 years of service, including time spent in Iraq during the Iraq war.

Incumbent congressman Scott Perry talks to the media while before voting at the polls at Monaghan Presbyterian Church in Dillsburg Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Perry is defending his seat against Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. Bill Kalina photo

"As a person that grew up in a tough household without much, the military provided many things," Perry said during his recent Dispatch interview. "That's one of the glorious things about America is it provided the opportunities that you might not find elsewhere." 

The military offered the ability to be a part of something bigger than himself, Perry said, as well as sacrificing for something bigger than himself: the United States.

Retired Army Gen. Jessica Wright, who served as the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness under President Barack Obama, has known Perry for over 40 years. They met at Fort Indiantown Gap, when Wright was a captain.

"He is an individual with extreme common sense and loyalty," Wright said. "He is honest to the core, he is extremely hardworking both in his personal life and his professional life."

Perry's military career was in aviation, and Wright noted that flying is a risky business.

"You don't get promoted to brigadier general if you're not hardworking and loyal," Wright said. "I have a son who is 33 years old and is a captain in the Army, and I would not hesitate sending my son to war with Scott Perry as the leader, because I know that Scott Perry would do the right thing." 

During his first campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, Perry had to address a 2002 case involving his former company, Hydrotech Mechanical Services, where he was charged with making false reports to the Department of Environmental Protection.

The case ended with Perry pleading no contest to the charges and entering Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. Perry, who was a colonel in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard at the time, completed the program, and his record was expunged.

Representatives at Hydrotech Mechanical Services did not respond to a request for comment.

Several others did not respond to a request for comment or said they had no comment. That included former opponents Eugene DePasquale and George Scott, as well as former colleagues in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Stan Saylor and Keith Gillespie.

This year, Perry's reelection campaign comes at a time of crisis for the U.S. 

Perry, running for his sixth term in Congress, recently held an event in Harrisburg billed as helping houses of worship better protect themselves from security threats.

That's something the congressman echoed in the 2020 appearance.

"You got elected to lead, so let's get out there and lead," Perry said at Lighthouse Baptist Church. That came when he was criticizing his own party for not doing enough on abortion.

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"There's some issues that both parties would rather have the issue than the solution, and when the solution is in front of them, they'll find a way not to have it so they can keep the issue and it is reprehensible," Perry said in 2020. "When it comes to the life of innocent children, I'm sorry, that's just how it is." 

Among the bills Perry introduced as sole sponsor in his current term are bills that would impeach Attorney General Merrick Garland, prohibit the Department of Transportation from providing passenger-ferry grants for zero-emission or electric ferries and prohibit certain grants from financing or refinancing projects that support the development, manufacturing, staging, maintenance or deployment of offshore wind energy infrastructure, and for other purposes.

While no debate has been scheduled at the time of this writing, Daniels and Perry did face off in an ABC27 segment on Sept. 28.

There's still much that's unknown about Perry's involvement in the attempts to subvert the election in 2020. He ignored a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

When asked for reactions to the House Select Committee's testimony, Perry has consistently sought to re-focus attention on other issues.

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For example, after the July 12 hearing where U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said that the strategy by certain Trump supporters is to blame "crazies" like attorney John Eastman or Perry, Perry spokesman Jay Ostrich said Perry "is using his time fighting for his constituents suffering from an historic economic crisis, not wasting it on petty personal attacks and pitiful, partisan political theater."

In the end, Perry says he's the right choice for Pennsylvania.

"I'll leave it up to the voters," he said, "but I am asking them for their continued support."

 — Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.