Trump-fueled election 'audit' sparks state Senate GOP turmoil

MARC LEVY
Associated Press
Mastriano

HARRISBURG — The top Republican in Pennsylvania's Senate said Friday that he is putting a different senator in charge of an "election integrity" undertaking and removed a senator who had made waves by aiming to carry out an Arizona-style “forensic investigation” of Pennsylvania’s 2020 presidential election.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman said he had had "many frustrations" with state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who has helped spread former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him in Pennsylvania and other battleground states.

Mastriano, R-Franklin, last month kicked off his effort to bring to Pennsylvania a repeat of the Arizona state Senate GOP’s widely discredited and partisan audit of the 2020 election in that state.

Corman’s move set off a round of recriminations Friday, with Mastriano going on right-wing broadcasters to accuse Corman of obstructing his efforts and lying about it.

Trump’s allies also took to Twitter to repeat Mastriano’s accusations against Corman, who denied that he had tried to stop Mastriano and insisted that he remained dedicated to carrying out an “audit” of the 2020 presidential election.

FILE - in this Feb. 5, 2019, file photo,  Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, speaks in Harrisburg, Pa. Corman, said Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, that he's putting state Sen. Cris Dush, R-Bradford, in charge of an "election integrity" undertaking and removing state Sen. Doug Mastriano from the post, whom he said he's had "many frustrations" with. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

“I'm a hundred percent on board with this. ... The people of Pennsylvania need to have results of what happened,” Corman told former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in Bannon's War Room online broadcast Friday.

Yanking Mastriano off the job — and Senate GOP leadership stripping him of Capitol office staff — underscored how his effort to bring an Arizona-style audit to had sown discord in the Republican caucus.

Democrats accuse Mastriano of trying to orchestrate a “sham audit,” saying he is seeking to undermine the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory in a bid for Trump’s endorsement to run for governor.

More:GOP Sen. Mastriano's plan to issue election subpoenas 'stopped'

More:York County officials nonplussed by Mastriano subpoena threat

More:Read York County Commissioners' four-page response to Mastriano's audit demands

The state Democratic Party also accused Corman of being too cowardly to stand up to right-wing conspiracy theories about the election being stolen.

Mastriano — who showed up outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection by Trump supporters — last month sent letters to Philadelphia and York and Tioga counties with a sweeping request for access to documents, information and equipment, under threat of a subpoena.

However, Corman said Mastriano issued those letters without getting approval from the Republican caucus and “scared off” the counties, which refused to cooperate.

Gov. Tom Wolf and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, both Democrats, have suggested that they will challenge any subpoena in court, and Corman pointed out that it made it that much more important to carry out an audit that could withstand a legal challenge.

Mastriano had feuded with Senate GOP leadership over legalities and logistics for the vast undertaking he had envisioned, such as issuing subpoenas, imposing costs on counties to comply, financing the enterprise with private money and finding appropriate contractors to carry out the work, Senate Republican officials said.

“To me, he’s not really interested in results, he’s interested in grandstanding, and this is too important of an issue," Corman said in an interview Friday. "I want someone who wants to get results.”

Corman said he asked Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, to take over the caucus' election integrity venture. The details have yet to be worked out, Corman said, but he did not rule out issuing subpoenas to counties or carrying out an Arizona-style audit.

Dush has been aligned with Mastriano, questioning the legitimacy of Biden's victory and advocating for an Arizona-style election audit in Pennsylvania.

In December, both men signed a letter urging Congress to reject Pennsylvania's certification of its electors for Biden, who won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes.

He proposed a resolution to declare November's election unlawful, and to undo the the result by giving the Republican-controlled Legislature the power to decide the state's electors. He never formally introduced it.

In June, Dush and Mastriano both traveled to Phoenix to see the Arizona state Senate GOP’s audit up close in a trip paid for by Voices and Votes, which contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Arizona Senate GOP's audit and is led by pro-Trump One America News Network correspondents.