Of all the fantastical false claims of fraud and vote manipulation in the 2020 presidential election, “Italygate” was one of the most extreme. And Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) was at the heart of bringing it to Donald Trump’s attention.
But as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol demonstrated Thursday, Italygate also made its way to the highest levels of the U.S. government. The committee showed Dec. 31, 2020, text messages between Perry and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that included a YouTube video about it, with Perry asking: “Why can’t we just work with the Italian government?”
Meadows discussed the claim “frequently,” according to Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who led the questioning during the committee hearing on Thursday, which focused on Trump’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department to help overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Perry also pressed acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to investigate. “I told him this whole thing about Italy had been debunked,” Rosen said during Thursday’s hearing. Another former Justice official who testified Thursday, Richard Donoghue, said the theory was “pure insanity” and “patently absurd.”
That wasn’t Perry’s only involvement in encouraging Trump to get the vote overturned. The committee obtained records from the National Archives showing that Perry was among the Republican members of Congress who met with the president in the Oval Office on Dec. 21, 2020. That day, Meadows tweeted that the meeting’s purpose was “preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud. Stay tuned.”
Other members of Congress who sought pardons, according to that testimony: Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Louie Gohmert of Texas. In an email to the White House displayed Thursday, Brooks asked on his and Gaetz’s behalf that Trump “give general (all purpose) pardons” to every member of Congress who on Jan. 6, 2021, voted to reject electoral college submissions from Arizona or Pennsylvania. More than 145 Republican lawmakers voted to object to one or both submissions. Those mentioned by name during the hearing were contacted for comment.
“At no time did I speak with Miss Hutchinson, a White House scheduler, nor any White House staff about a pardon for myself or any other Member of Congress — this never happened,” Perry said in a statement.
Hutchinson told the committee that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) talked about pardons but never specifically asked for one. She also said that she heard from Patrick Philbin, a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office, that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had contacted the office and asked for a pardon but that she had not spoken to the Georgia congresswoman directly.
Those involved with the insurrection have repeatedly pointed to Perry as the chief conduit for the House GOP Conference to the White House in Trump’s quest to overturn his defeat. Perry has so far stonewalled the committee, defying a subpoena requesting his cooperation in the investigation.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), at the committee’s first hearing this month, stated that Perry was among those who had sought a pardon, but Thursday was the first glimpse of testimony from former White House officials corroborating that claim.