How Scott Perry Went Off The Deep End In Effort To Debunk Trump Loss

UNITED STATES - JULY 20: Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., leaves the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
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It was just after 8 p.m. ET on Jan. 6, 2021. Law enforcement had just finished clearing the Capitol building, and Congress was beginning to reconvene to finish the task which Stop the Steal supporters had violently disrupted: formalizing Biden’s win, and Trump’s defeat, in the 2020 election.

But Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) had his mind elsewhere.

“Is this true?” he texted one of his legislative directors, attaching to the message a press release claiming that an Italian defense contractor had “switched votes throughout America” in the 2020 election.

Perry was inquiring about ItalyGate, the theory which holds that Italian satellites zapped votes in the 2020 elections away from Trump and to Biden.

A new tranche of texts from Perry, an influential figure in several prongs of Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, were revealed on Wednesday in a previously sealed filing with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Perry has been fighting to block Special Counsel Jack Smith from accessing records on the congressman’s cell phone.

The filing includes a batch of Perry’s text messages and a lower court order from then-D.C. Chief Judge Beryl Howell allowing some texts to be released. Howell quoted and described dozens of messages in her order, which was revealed on Wednesday before vanishing from the docket later in the day, suggesting that they may have been placed online by mistake.

The messages show how wild conspiracy theories, including ItalyGate and a related tale of a supposed incident involving American soldiers in Germany and voting machine servers animated some of the most harrowing and extreme attempts to overturn the election. Perry, along with then-acting assistant attorney general Jeff Clark, tried to enlist the DOJ in Trump’s attempt to reverse his loss while, texts show, attempting to use Clark’s access to government databases to verify pulp novel-esque allegations of foreign cyber espionage.

Perry didn’t return a request for comment from TPM.

The messages serve as a reminder of the Trump administration’s unique ability to bring fringe figures into powerful government positions.

In November and December 2020, Trump and his allies were casting about for theories or evidence which could attribute his loss to fraud, or at least persuade the persuadable that Biden was, in fact, the loser. That led Perry to communicate with what Howell described in the ruling as a set of “cybersecurity individuals,” including several people who had held senior appointments in the administration’s national security bureaucracy before going on to endorse conspiracy theories in the 2020 election.

Perry was in contact with Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general who gained prominence on the far-right in 2020 for viral videos where he acted as a sieve for conspiracy theories. In one clip which gained attention, McInerney promoted claims that various foreign nations, including Italy and Pakistan, had hacked into voting machines, and also put forth the idea, reminiscent of spy thrillers, that an ultra-secret CIA program called “hammer and scorecard” had been used to change votes from Trump to Biden.

Howell included texts from McInerney to Perry in which the retired general asked to “see if TUCKER would put me on” before adding that Sidney Powell would be better. “I will re-engage the targets,” Perry replied.

From the texts, Perry appeared to be especially concerned with how messages about supposed foreign cyber interference went out to the public. He exchanged messages with John Mills, a former director for cybersecurity policy, strategy, and international affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense before the election.

Mills has since gone on to become a voting fraud booster, and served as a plaintiff in a 2022 lawsuit seeking to undo a Virginia county’s election results.

Per the filing, Perry gave Mills’ contact information to Trump campaign official Justin Clark in August 2020, telling Clark about “cybersecurity information” that Mills had provided.

By Sept. 14, Perry appeared worried, texting Mills that he “hear[s] the [Trump] campaign is going to start the narrative and then the administration is going to roll out the policy” and that they “are running out of time while we wait for the lawyers.”

It’s not clear what that narrative was. But the search for ways to back up the claims of foreign cyber interference also led Perry into more behind-the-scenes, less Fox News-focused efforts.

One such person was Rich Higgins, a former Trump National Security Council staffer who left in 2017 after sending a memo which accused a “deep state” cabal of marxists and Black Lives Matter activists of trying to undermine Trump.

Perry and Higgins corresponded in the days after the election, the filing says, as Trump and those around him grappled with his loss. On Nov. 12, Perry emailed Higgins about an “incredibly spooky” story. The army, Perry wrote, had confiscated election software servers in Germany that had been used by Dominion.

“The Agency is covering its tracks,” Perry added.

Higgins played a low-profile but important role in propagating conspiracy theories about the election. On the same day as the Perry email, Higgins told far-right Washington state legislator Matt Shea (R) that the U.S. was undergoing a “color revolution;” later, Higgins appeared in a White House memo advocating for him and others to receive access to NSA signals data to “prove” that the election had been stolen.

There’s no indication that Perry was involved in that memo. But the texts do show the congressman pushing for Jeffrey Clark to gain access to classified government records.

As Jan. 6 bore down on Perry and the rest of Trumpworld, his requests and directives appeared to become more frantic.

On Jan. 1, Perry sent Clark “relevant information” via multiple texts, before telling the supposed acting-attorney-general-in-waiting to make sure that the Director of National Intelligence provided “exactly what you need. I’m attempting to send you specific questions [r]ight now.”

Clark replied by telling Perry to tell Trump that Gina Haspel “needs to get me” security clearance “tickets” in order to “access certain compartments of information otherwise sealed off.”

“Roger,” Perry replied. He later texted Clark that “POTUS is giving you a presidential security clearance.”

At the time, a 2021 Senate Judiciary Report said, Clark was seeking access to classified records from the DNI to substantiate a theory that the Chinese government had weaponized advanced home thermostats to interfere with voting machines.

The next day, on Jan. 2, Perry texted Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows with yet another request: Could he arrange a meeting between Trump and Italian PM Alberto Conti?

Those messages do not appear in TPM’s archive of texts provided by Mark Meadows to the House Jan. 6 Committee. But it’s clear from other records that Meadows, in the days before Jan. 6, was already acting.

On Dec. 30, he had already sent acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen a request to investigate the ItalyGate conspiracy theory.

“Can you believe this?” Rosen replied in a message to another official.

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