By Katelyn Polantz, CNN Reporter, Crime and Justice
The Justice Department has tried to gain access to Republican Rep. Scott Perry’s text messages as part of a criminal investigation into 2020 election interference, facing off with his lawyers in a secret court proceeding after seizing his phone, CNN observed at the courthouse and sources familiar with the investigation said.
The investigative work, now overseen by special counsel Jack Smith, is significant given that Perry texted then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about advice from a “cyber forensic team” he was in touch with after the 2020 election.
Perry believed election security was compromised, contributing to Donald Trump’s loss of the presidency, and wanted to preserve voting machines after the election. That led the Pennsylvania lawmaker to be in touch with powerful Trump backers, including Meadows, Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and others who pushed false claims of election fraud.
“Plz tell every state senior that they need to 1. Preserve the specific voting machines (scanners),” Perry began in a long text message obtained by CNN. In the message, Perry passed along several instructions to Meadows from a “cyber forensic team.” The text was also reported this week by Talking Points Memo.
“Please ensure widest dissemination and action,” Perry wrote to Meadows on November 10, a week after the 2020 election.
Perry’s communications with Meadows suggest the congressman was keen to disseminate the same types of direction to others. He then asked Meadows for contacts in Wisconsin and Arizona, and Meadows later referred him to another Republican member of Congress, Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy.
Perry’s lawyer declined to comment.
CNN first reported in the spring on the Meadows texts, after obtaining 2,319 text messages that Meadows had sent and received between Election Day 2020 and the 2021 inauguration. The texts were among those selectively provided by Meadows to the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
Perry, according to several congressional investigations around the 2020 election, pushed to have the nation’s top intelligence official investigate baseless conspiracy theories and also sought to replace the US acting attorney general with Clark, an acolyte willing to do Trump’s bidding.
Perry’s phone was seized in August as part of the federal criminal probe into January 6 and efforts to impede the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden. Perry previously said that the Justice Department told his attorneys he was not a target of the investigation.
Perry sued the Justice Department days after the search, then quickly asked the court to put the public-facing lawsuit on hold. The Justice Department approached Perry’s phone seizure and other phone seizures from Trump allies in two parts, according to sources familiar with the investigation and public filings. DOJ would image the phone through an initial warrant and then seek a second warrant through confidential court proceedings to access the data.
After Perry’s lawsuit, the dispute went under seal, with Perry’s lawyers and Justice Department investigators appearing in mid-October before Chief Judge Beryl Howell during a hearing that was closed to the public, CNN reporters observed at the time and sources confirmed.
Howell oversees federal grand jury proceedings in Washington, DC, and several of the prosecutors involved in those proceedings are now working with Smith on the January 6 investigation.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
It’s unclear how that case was resolved, or if it’s ongoing. Perry asked to dismiss his public-facing lawsuit in late October. It is one of several secret court fights that have added intrigue to the January 6 investigation in recent months.
Perry, according to his lawsuit, tried to hold off federal investigators from accessing his phone data by claiming some of it was personal or protected by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, which protects the work of members of Congress. Federal prosecutors told Perry’s team they were willing to negotiate, to some extent, according to his public court filings.
The Speech or Debate Clause protection wouldn’t necessarily shut down the criminal investigation entirely, but could prompt a more careful approach by investigators trying to access his records, and more mediation in the federal court system.
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