DOJ seeks Scott Perry's text messages as legal battle over records continues

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Federal investigators are seeking access to U.S. Rep. Scott Perry's text messages as part of an investigation into efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election, CNN reported.

The probe, reportedly the subject of secret court proceedings between Perry and the U.S. Department of Justice, came after federal investigators seized the Republican congressman's cellphone earlier this year — which itself is the subject of a public records case involving The York Dispatch.

Perry, who recently was reelected to the 10th District, has become a lightning rod of controversy following the 2020 election, including being subpoenaed by the House special committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The congressman's office did not respond to a Dispatch request for comment.

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Following the seizure of his phone, Perry filed an emergency lawsuit in August to get his phone data back from federal investigators and to reportedly block them from searching the device. At an event in August, he claimed that the investigation wasn't about January 2021 but instead about the November election.

U.S. Congressman Scott Perry speaks during the York County Republicans watch party at Wisehaven Event Center in Windsor Township, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert/The York Dispatch

Prior to the Jan. 6 riot, Perry was in regular contact with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, according to information released by the Jan. 6 committee. That included passing along several conspiracy theories, including one claiming that an Italian defense contractor changed votes via satellite from former president Donald Trump to President Joe Biden.

The "Italygate" conspiracy was investigated by the Department of Justice and found to be baseless.

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Perry also recommended former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark, who had nothing to do with elections, but was touted as someone who could assist with efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

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

Congressman Scott Perry (PA-10th District) voting alongside others at Monaghan Presbyterian Church in Dillsburg on Nov. 8, 2022.

Talking Points Memo reported on a series of Meadows text messages this month, including communications with Perry.

“Plz tell every state senior that they need to 1. Preserve the specific voting machines (scanners),” Perry wrote, in one exchange. In another, the congressman said he was working on the "cyber team" to help in efforts in the swing states of Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, a status conference in the lawsuit filed by several media organizations, including the York Dispatch, has been scheduled for Tuesday.

The York Dispatch, York Daily Record and PennLive jointly sued the U.S. Justice Department in September seeking to have judicial records in the Perry investigation unsealed, including the warrant, warrant application, affidavit and other related documents.

Most recently, Magistrate Judge Susan E. Schwab of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania instructed the U.S. Department of Justice to file its opposition with redactions that would be reviewed by the court to determine if need for secrecy outweighed the public's right to access.

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The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, which represents the media organizations, cited another case in Texas where The Associated Press is fighting to unseal documents related to an FBI probe of Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, of Texas.

In that case, Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, rejected the government's motion to file its briefings entirely under seal, saying a partial unsealing is the best way to both protect the government's interests and promote the public's interest in transparency.

"The Government can no more justify the wholesale sealing of its briefing in this case than it could in the Southern District of Texas," the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press wrote.

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