In 'unprecedented' move, U.S. Rep. Perry is in a position to investigate himself

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Last summer, the Department of Justice seized U.S. Rep. Scott Perry's cellphone as part of an investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Now, the York County Republican will serve on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee — the panel that would be tasked with continuing the Jan. 6 investigation if the new GOP majority chose to pursue the subject. On Wednesday, Perry was assigned specifically to the group's subcommittees on national security and economic growth.

Christopher Beem, acting director of Pennsylvania State University's McCourtney Institute for Democracy, said Perry's appointment is unprecedented.

"It's not merely a matter of oversight," Beem said. "It's a matter of using this congressional power to circumvent or thwart the agencies doing their job."

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Perry said he has no plans to recuse himself from the matter, despite the allegations the Jan. 6 investigators documented that he took an active role in subverting the November 2020 election.

“Well, why should I be limited?” Perry recently told ABC’s “This Week." "Why should anybody be limited just because someone has made an accusation?"

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., nominates Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., in the House chamber as the House meets for a second day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“Everybody in America is innocent until proven otherwise,” the congressman continued. “The American people are really, really tired of the persecution and the instruments of federal power being used against them.”

Perry was not made available for an interview by The York Dispatch. His spokesperson, Jay Ostrich, said the congressman "won't be bullied into sitting on the sidelines."

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Perry, reelected last year to the 10th District, has become a lightning rod of controversy following the 2020 election, including being subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 select committee. He rejected the subpoena and did not tesify as part of the investigation.

While there haven't been any indictments or charges handed down against Perry, Beem said there's something fundamentally wrong when oversight of agencies — in this case, the Department of Justice — is given to people who've been part of investigations by those agencies.

"What I think is new is that in this case, you're putting people on the Oversight Committee who are being investigated by the Department of Justice or others in terms of their involvement in Jan. 6," Beem said. "That is new, and that is a bad precedent."

The Jan. 6 select committee held its final public hearing in December, before the new Republican majority took control. The committee, in what was likely its final action on the matter, made four criminal referrals against former President Donald Trump. Its final report described Perry as "a key congressional ally" in Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Beem said the House Oversight Committee has been used for partisan aims before by both sides. One example: Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., held hearings on the government's distribution of the Troubled Asset Relief Program following the Great Recession.

"An argument can be made that this was legitimate oversight of a federal program run by the executive branch, but it was also an opportunity to denigrate the operations of the Obama administration and raise suspicions about who got money and why," Beem said.

Democrats, meanwhile, have investigated GOP officials, such as the committee's investigation of the inhumane treatment of immigrants at the Mexican border.

"You could absolutely make the argument that that was a legitimate thing for the House to be doing. There were children mistreated," Beem said. "That's a legitimate thing to do. But there's no doubt that part of the objective was to reflect badly on the Trump administration's policies."

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Already, the House Oversight Committee has started to schedule hearings on Republican-led topics, including one on Feb. 8 with three Twitter executives on the company's handling of a New York Post story in 2020 regarding a laptop alleged to have been owned by President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden.

Leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection, 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 Trump to Biden.

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

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. 

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Perry, leader of the House Freedom Caucus, was an important figure in the fight that saw Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., elected Speaker of the House. At first stalwartly opposed to McCarthy, Perry and others were able to strike a deal with many concessions to the far-right members of the Republican party before McCarthy was elected Speaker in the 15th vote.

"Perry has moved into prominence with the Freedom Caucus because of the deal they worked out," said political analyst G. Terry Madonna. "I think he's going to play a more prominent role in general in the House, given the fact that the Freedom Caucus can be very significant in terms of the Republican agenda."

Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, said Perry has become a key figure not only as head of the Freedom Caucus but in the broader Republican party.

"An absolute cornerstone figure now in terms of this powerful group within the Republican ranks," Borick said. "He's looking for ways, I think, to expand his profile and power, and Oversight is the type of place that allows that to happen."

In addition to being a part of the Oversight Committee, Perry continues to sit on on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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