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Pennsylvania GOP Played an Active Role in Pro-Trump Election Denial

Jan. 6 deposition transcripts have offered new perspectives on the role several state Republicans played in efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including an effort by Doug Mastriano to access voting machines.

(TNS) — Hundreds of pages of deposition transcripts released Wednesday, Dec. 21, by the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack offered new insights into the roles Pennsylvania Republicans played in aiding President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The committee is expected to issue the full report on its investigation on Thursday. But the newly released transcripts were filled with new details including that Mike Roman, a Kensington native and one of Trump's top election advisers, helped spearhead the effort to send pro-Trump electors to Washington as Congress met to certify the election results that day.

They also revealed a previously undisclosed attempt by State Sen. Doug Mastriano to access certain voting machines days before Jan. 6 as well as references to a plan floated by the White House to sue Pennsylvania directly in the U.S. Supreme Court over its administration of the 2020 vote. The documents also shed new light on the role a congressional staffer for U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly played behind the scenes.

Here are some of the highlights from the committee's interviews:

Mike Roman: A Key Trump Campaign Operative's Role In The False Electors Scheme

Roman, a longtime Philadelphia Republican political operative, appeared to play a key role in organizing false electors in swing states such as Pennsylvania as part of a plot to overturn the election.

A former Philadelphia ward leader and senior adviser to the Trump campaign, Roman was designated by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as "the lead for executing the voting" by the fake electors on Dec. 14, 2020, according to an email the committee cited in an interview transcript released Wednesday.

Transcript of Mike Roman's Interview With the Jan. 6 Committee

The interview transcript suggests the pro-Trump electors in Pennsylvania were concerned about possible legal exposure if they signed official certificates purporting to be the legitimate electors.

In the interview, investigators referenced a Dec. 12, 2020, email sent to Roman from Trump campaign lawyer Kenneth Chesebro.

"Mike, here is my suggested language for dealing with the concern raised in the PA conference call about electors possibly facing legal exposure, parenthesis, at the hands of a partisan AG, close parenthesis, if they seem to certify that they are currently the valid electors," the transcript says.

Investigators also asked Roman whether he knew if Mastriano, the state senator who ran as the GOP's candidate for Pennsylvania governor this year, had expressed concerns about the elector plan. Roman pleaded the Fifth.

The transcript suggests Roman also played a role in organizing the delivery of Wisconsin Republicans' fake elector certificate to Congress on Jan. 6. A person investigators identified as Michael Brown texted associates that he "should probably buy Roman a tie for sending me on this one. Hasn't been done since 1876 ..."

That's an apparent reference to the disputed presidential election that year.

Roman refused to say whether he'd instructed Brown to deliver the document, the transcript says.

The interview transcript also references a briefing of Pennsylvania lawmakers in November 2020 about purported election fraud. On Nov. 8, 2020, Roman shared with an associate a screenshot of a message he'd obtained that said: "Maybe the Trump campaign should get some actual evidence of fraud and file in court. They've been horrible in their court filings. We just got a report from their legal team. They told us on caucus they have zero evidence."

Roman declined to tell investigators who sent him the message or to discuss the briefing of Pennsylvania lawmakers, apparently delivered by Kentucky's secretary of state.

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly: Staffer's Behind the Scenes Involvement in False Electors Effort

Committee investigators repeatedly asked Roman during his deposition what he knew about behind-the-scenes efforts to undermine the election by a longtime top aide to U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, a Butler County Republican and a top Trump ally in the House.

Between Nov. 21 and Dec. 4, 2020, Roman exchanged 25 messages with Kelly's then-chief-of-staff, Matt Stroia, according to questioning in the deposition transcripts. Those included exchanges that suggested Stroia may have played a more active and earlier role in the efforts by Trump and his allies than was previously known.

His name had previously surfaced in the committee's work in connection with efforts to deliver the slates of pro-Trump electors to Pence on Jan. 6.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson has said his office passed along the lists to Pence but that it was Kelly's office that had provided it to him. And while Kelly initially denied Johnson's claims as "patently false," the congressman's office later acknowledged that an "internal investigation" had found Stroia had been in contact with Johnson's staff.

But Roman's deposition before the Jan. 6 Committee suggests Stroia may also have played a role in organizing a raucous Nov. 25 state Senate hearing in Gettysburg, during which Mastriano and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis pushed unfounded claims of fraud in the Pennsylvania election. Trump called in from Washington to voice his support.

"I hope it turns out like we envisioned," Stroia wrote to Roman three days before the hearing in a message quoted in the deposition transcripts.

During his interview with the Jan. 6 Committee, Roman pleaded the Fifth and refused to answer questions about it or discuss whether he or Stroia had any involvement in organizing the Gettysburg hearing.

But other messages cited in Roman's deposition show Stroia was in direct contact with Giuliani, who spearheaded Trump's election challenges in the state. In one exchange with Roman, Stroia said he'd directed the president's lawyer to talk to Roman instead.

"Do you know why Mr. Giuliani would have been calling Mike Kelly's chief of staff ... about presidential election issues rather than you, who was acting as director of election day operations for the campaign?" committee staffers asked. He added: "I told him that you will know everything I do."

Asked to explain, Roman again pleaded the Fifth.

Doug Mastriano and Jenna Ellis: The State Senator and Trump Lawyer Sought Access To Pennsylvania Voting Machines

The committee's interview with Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis also shed light on Mastriano's postelection activities.

"We made good headway convincing [hopefully] two counties with Dominion machines in Pennsylvania," Mastriano wrote in a Dec. 28 email to Ellis, according to the transcript.

Transcript of Trump Lawyer Jenna Ellis' Deposition With the Jan. 6 Committee

In another email Mastriano makes reference to efforts to gain access to "ballot images." Ellis declined to tell investigators why Mastriano was interested in that.

In a Dec. 29 email, Mastriano told Ellis that he'd e-mailed Trump himself with a letter related to "securing voluntary access for Dominion forensics."

Fulton County later gave a third-party firm access to its Dominion voting machines, facilitated by Mastriano and State Sen. Judy Ward (R., Blair), for a supposed "audit" of the votes. That prompted the state to decertify those voting machines and force the county to obtain new ones. It wasn't immediately clear which other counties Mastriano and other Trump allies sought to hand over access to voting machines.

Ellis was also questioned about her contacts with Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler and Jake Corman and Kim Ward, the GOP leaders of the State Senate. She declined to answer questions, however, on any efforts she and Giuliani had made to pressure them to set aside the state's election results.

Cutler previously told the committee that Giuliani and Ellis called him daily during the run-up to Congress' certification of the election, looking to push a baseless theory that state legislatures could set aside election results based on unsupported suspicions of fraud and appoint a new slate of Electoral College delegates instead.

Cutler said he largely avoided those calls, thinking they were inappropriate and had his attorneys respond, asking Giuliani and Ellis to stop contacting him.

Jeffrey Clark: A White House Plan to Sue Pennsylvania in the U.S. Supreme Court

In December 2020, Trump had White House lawyers draft a complaint to sue Pennsylvania in the U.S. Supreme Court over the administration of its election, according to committee questioning in the deposition of former Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Clark. (Part 1 and Part 2)

Clark, a Philadelphia native who attended Father Judge Catholic High School before launching his career in Washington as a government lawyer, has emerged as a central focus for the committee due to his role in a drama in which Trump briefly considered appointing him attorney general in the waning days of his administration.

Clark had been introduced to the president by U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, a York County Republican and key ally of the president in Congress. And according to earlier testimony before the committee, Clark had expressed a willingness to use the Justice Department to pressure state legislatures in battleground states to overturn their election results despite no evidence of significant fraud.

On Monday, the Jan. 6 Committee referred him to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution.

During two contentious deposition interviews with the committee in November 2021 and February 2022, Clark refused to answer almost any questions about his relationship to Perry, his conversations with Trump, or the ideas he floated on how the Justice Department could help contest the election. He repeatedly invoked executive privilege — the doctrine that allows presidents and their staff to resist some legislative oversight — as well as his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

He also balked at answering questions about the draft complaint that a White House assistant sent to top officials at the Justice Department on Dec. 29, 2020, for a suit against Pennsylvania. Correspondence referenced in the deposition of Ellis, the Trump lawyer, also referenced a Trump campaign plan to ask the Supreme Court to order new elections in as many as eight states to "ensure electoral integrity." Those suits were never filed.

Instead, the Trump campaign filed a brief in support of a long-shot lawsuit filed at the Supreme Court by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, seeking to overturn Pennsylvania's election. The justices declined to hear the case.

For his part, Clark during his deposition — in one of his only substantive exchanges with committee members — lamented the current partisan state of politics in Washington, recalling his own upbringing in a primarily white, working-class neighborhood near the foot of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.

"My dad was a truck driver who never graduated from high school," he said. "He was a lifelong Democrat and a Catholic. My mom was a lifelong Republican and a Protestant. I wound up as a blend of the two, a Catholic conservative Republican."

His lawyer Harry MacDougald was more acerbic. He called the Jan. 6 committee's questioning "railroading" and accused members of indulging in a "paranoid fantasy."

"It is not enough in Washington to merely disagree with someone about policy questions," he said. "Instead, they must be destroyed. Those who disagree with Mr. Clark seek his destruction by any means available."

The QAnon Hummer Duo: Coordination Among Right-Wing Extremist Groups

Deposition transcripts were also released Wednesday for two Virginia men who made headlines in Philadelphia when they showed up outside the 2020 vote count at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in a Hummer filled with guns and emblazoned with QAnon stickers.

But the transcripts show neither Joshua Macias, president of the organization Veterans for Trump, or his bodyguard, Antonio LaMotta, were forthcoming in their interviews with committee investigators. Both men asserted their Fifth Amendment rights again and again, citing their ongoing prosecution in Philadelphia for weapons violations and attempted election interference.

(They were both later convicted on the weapons counts in October, but acquitted on the election related charges. LaMotta has since been federally charged with illegally entering the Capitol on Jan. 6.)

The committee's investigators attempted to quiz both men on their contacts with other right-wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters — the leaders of which Macias and LaMotta were shown in videos to have interacted with on Jan. 5.

One video played during an earlier committee hearing showed Macias meeting with Enrique Tarrio, then-president of the Proud Boys, and Stewart Rhodes, head of the Oath Keepers, in a Washington, D.C. parking garage the day before the Capitol attack. Committee members have previously cited the video to suggest some coordination among extremist groups in the run-up to Jan. 6.

But when asked in his deposition how he came to be in the garage, Macias remained tight lipped.

"I walked," he responded.

Investigators asked him why. "I was asked to," he said.

By whom? "Someone said, 'Hey come here," Macias replied.

He refused to say what they discussed in that meeting.

As for whether he considered himself a QAnon adherent, Macias responded: "I do not ascribe to people's beliefs. I have my own belief system."

(c)2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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