PA GOP State Senate Forensic Investigation of 2020 Election Faces Partisan Democrat Attacks, GOP Infighting

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 04: A television monitor streams video of the ballot counting process at the Allegheny County elections warehouse on November 4, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Election officials continue to count absentee ballots in critical battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania State Senate committee conducting hearings this month as part of a forensic investigation of the 2020 election has subpoenaed the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) to provide a number of documents, and Democrats have responded with a lawsuit and highly partisan attacks.

The partisan fight between Democrats and Republicans over the investigation has been punctuated by a power struggle between State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-Centre) and State Senator Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), the former chairman of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, who launched the investigation but no longer runs it.

Senator Mastriano, who at the time was the chairman of the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, wrote on July 7:

A forensic investigation of our election results and processes for the 2020 General Election and the 2021 Primary will go a long way to restore trust in our system. Voting is the fundamental right of all citizens. We should continually look for ways to improve the voting process to ensure every voice is heard.

Today, as Chair of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee, I issued letters to several counties requesting information and materials needed to conduct a forensic investigation of the 2020 General Election and the 2021 Primary.

We have asked these counties to respond by July 31st with a plan to comply. The counties represent different geographical regions of Pennsylvania and differing political makeups. Some are Republican while others are Democrat, which means that this will be a balanced investigation.

The Intergovernmental Operations Committee is a standing committee of the Pennsylvania State Senate with oversight and investigatory responsibilities regarding activities relating to or conducted between two or more governments or levels of government, including the administration of elections across the Commonwealth. As set forth in Pennsylvania Senate Rule 14 (d), each standing committee is empowered with the authority to inspect and investigate the books, records, papers, documents, data, operation, and physical plant of any public agency in this Commonwealth, including county boards of elections.

But on August 20, Corman removed Mastriano as the chairman of the committee:

The top Republican state senator in Pennsylvania announced Friday he is replacing GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano with a different senator to lead an election review of several counties regarding the 2020 contest.

Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman said he had “many frustrations” with Mastriano, who last month sent letters to Tioga, Philadelphia, and York county officials with requests for access to equipment, documents, and other information for a “forensic investigation” similar to the 2020 election audit commissioned by the GOP-controlled Senate in Arizona. However, the three counties signaled they would not comply with the demands, to which Mastriano said he would set up a committee vote for subpoenas, after acting Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Veronica Degraffenreid made an example of a fourth county, Fulton, by decertifying its equipment because a private firm was granted access to its machines.

Republican state Sen. Cris Dush, who visited the Maricopa County audit with Mastriano, will “take up this cause and initiate a thorough review of the election,” Corman said in a statement, which also said Mastriano’s replacement will take a stand against Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has decried audit plans as a “disgrace to democracy.”

Corman promised the committee would proceed with a forensic investigation when he replaced Mastriano with Dush, and the new chairman was quick to emphasize his commitment to that task.

“The people of Pennsylvania are experiencing a crisis of confidence in our elections, and I take my newfound responsibility to conduct an election integrity investigation very seriously,” State Senator Chris Dush (R-Jefferson), said in a statement issued about election integrity on August 20, shortly after he was named the new chairman of the Intergovernmental Operations Committee by Corman. Sen Dush said in his August 20 statement:

There have been stories that Senate Pro Tempore Corman has moved this investigation to me for the purpose of killing it. The opposite is true. We should have been having hearings and moving toward a more formalized plan to conduct an investigation weeks ago. My team and I are in the process of getting things organized and will work with Senate Leadership to get it done,”
The purpose of this investigation is to uncover information which is necessary for the legislature to potentially take future legislative action. I have collected evidence and conducted numerous criminal and civil investigations during my career in the military and as an insurance investigator. While a legislative investigation has differences from these types of investigations, many of the same skills apply. I look forward to putting my years of experience with legal cases, court proceedings and evidence collection to good use in restoring faith in our elections.

I want to make it clear to the public that I will be treating evidence as evidence and not as a means of obtaining publicity. You may be frustrated with not hearing updates as quickly as you would like, but there is an investigative need to hold that evidence close until the review is completed.

To the Attorney General, Governor Wolf and the Secretary of State I want to convey this message; I will not stand idly by if you threaten county and other officials and stand in the way of transparency and legislative oversight of our elections. The Senate has the authority to conduct this investigation and we will do so in a responsible manner.

In early September, the Intergovernmental Operations Committee, now chaired by Dush but of which Mastriano is still a member, “voted to subpoena millions of voters’ personal information and records from Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration. The Senate is planning to hire a  contractor, and the review could last for months,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

You can read the list of documents requested in the subpoena here.

Democrats, however, are aggressively pushing back. The Inquirer reported:

Senate Democrats filed a lawsuit arguing that the subpoena violates state election law protecting voters’ private information. They also argue that the investigation itself is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers: Courts have the power to investigate and rule on election disputes, and the executive branch, particularly the independently elected state auditor general, has the power to audit how elections are run. So the lawsuit seeks to not only block the subpoena but the entire investigation.

Democrat legislators and members of the Democrat administration of Gov. Wolf have attempted to disrupt the forensic investigation into the 2020 election since its inception.

In July, “Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid told all 67 counties in the state on Thursday not to comply with a request for ‘information and materials needed to conduct a forensic audit of the 2020 General Election,’ made Wednesday by State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), who chairs the Intergovernmental Operations Committee,” Breitbart News reported.

Later that month, Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Greensburg) and Senate President Pro Tempore Corman released a joint statement “regarding the Department of State’s announcement that voting machines in Fulton County would be decertified,” as Breitbart News reported, which said:

The directive by the Pennsylvania Department of State to decertify the voting machines from Fulton County is another aggressive move by the department that shines a light on Acting Secretary Degraffenreid’s ‘we know better’ approach to managing the election process. It demonstrates a continued pattern of rogue decisions by the Department of State to erode – not protect – individual voting rights and undermines the role of counties in our elections.

The Acting Secretary’s decision is a coercive act to strong-arm county election practices in an attempt to take voting oversight away from County Election Boards, a move not based in fact or in law. This antagonistic act can’t help but to leave all Pennsylvanians questioning if their voting rights are being violated regardless of party by creating roadblocks that generate mistrust in our Commonwealth’s election process.

Degraffenreid was named acting secretary of state in February by Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) after former Secretary of State Kathy Bookvar resigned, as Breitbart News reported:

Degraffenreid was named Acting Secretary of State on February 1 of this year by Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) to replace Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, who resigned when her position became untenable after she failed to follow the state constitution and advertise a constitutional amendment. The amendment, as Ballotpedia reported, “would have created a two-year period in which persons can file civil suits arising from childhood sexual abuse that would otherwise be considered outside the statute of limitations.” Due to this procedural error, the constitutional amendment did not appear on the 2020 ballot.

Notably, it was former Secretary of State Bookvar who certified Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential contest in Pennsylvania over former President Donald Trump.

Earlier this month, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) released a report that concluded, “more than 440,000 mail ballots in Pennsylvania ‘went missing or undeliverable’ in a state Joe Biden won by a certified margin of just 80,555 votes.”

Gov. Wolf nominated Degraffenreid to permanently serve as Pennsylvania Secretary of State in March, but withdrew that nomination on September 13 when it became clear that Republicans in the Pennsylvania Legislature were unlikely to confirm her nomination, in light of a number of actions she had taken as acting secretary of state which they considered partisan, unfair, and heavy handed.

In his statement withrawing Degraffenreid’s nomination, Wolf bitterly attacked Republicans, as the Associated Press reported:

Wolf said Republican leaders were seeking a “record number” of hearings to confirm his acting secretary of state, Veronica Degraffenreid, and said she has been the victim of desperate and baseless smears by the top-ranking GOP leader. . .

Wolf says the highest-ranking state senator, Republican Sen. Jake Corman of Centre County, has accused Degraffenreid of hiding something without giving her an opportunity to respond.

In response, Corman issued a statement saying the Senate was not obligated to honor Wolf’s request to withdraw her from consideration and the GOP caucus is considering how to proceed with her nomination.

While the forensic investigation into the 2020 election by the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee has made significant progress this month, it remains unclear whether it will be constrained by ongoing internal GOP strife.

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Capital-Star reported that State Sen. Mastriano has been:

…barred from attending private Senate GOP meetings. The move marks the latest escalation in a messy and public feud between Sen. Doug Mastriano and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman over the fate of a legislative investigation of the 2020 election.

“Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, will no longer have access to the closed-door caucus meetings, Jason Thompson, a spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, confirmed on Wednesday,” the Capital-Star reported.

“The move marks the latest escalation in a messy and public feud between Mastriano and Corman over the fate of a legislative investigation of the 2020 election,” the Capital-Star noted.

 

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