Pa. Democrats call for investigation of GOP statehouse colleagues’ role in Capitol siege

By: and - February 11, 2021 7:04 am

Thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters storm the U.S. Capitol building following a “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. The protesters stormed the historic building, breaking windows and clashing with police. Trump supporters had gathered in the nation’s capital to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory over Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

As former President Donald Trump faces impeachment charges for inciting a riot on the U.S. Capitol in January, state lawmakers in Pennsylvania are calling for investigations into Republicans who they say fanned the flames of insurrection from the Keystone State.

“While not every GOP elected official attended the insurrection in Washington, hundreds are complicit in spreading the lies that inspired their supporters to riot in front of the entire world,” Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-Delaware, who chairs the House Democratic Campaign Committee, said on a press call Wednesday.

Accountability starts, they say, with a federal investigation to discover how many of their GOP legislative colleagues attended the rally or helped people get there. 

Dozens of Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg — including members of GOP leadership — signed letters after the Nov. 3 election objecting to the state’s election results. Some even spread misinformation about voter fraud and legally dubious theories of how to overturn the results.

Only one has publicly admitted to attending the Capitol march — state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin. 

House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said the full scope of Republican involvement won’t be known without a formal investigation. 

“What we as a collective do not [know] is how deeply involved were our colleagues in the state legislature with this insurrection,” McClinton said. “We don’t have all their Facebook posts. [Not] everything was on the internet. Well, there are authorities that can find out that information.”

Legislative Democrats acknowledged that they have little power to censure, expel, or demand the resignation of their colleagues as long as Democrats are not in control of the General Assembly.  

But the message Democrats sent on Wednesday matched that of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which supports state house campaigns across the country. 

With 20 months to go until the 2022 midterm elections, the national group already has launched a digital campaign hammering legislative Republicans as enablers of the Capitol siege. A spokesperson for the DLCC said they have spent $25,000 on an ad targeting Pennsylvania.

Democrats in Harrisburg also say the efforts to sow doubt in the state’s electoral process could get in the way of compromise as the state tries to tweak its election laws and respond to the pandemic.

“How are we going to tell people to have confidence in the outcome of elections, or the legitimacy of their government?” Rep. Matt Bradford, of Montgomery County, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said. “This has to be called out and those that did this have to be held accountable. There has to be consequences — at the very least, a recognition that [Republicans] lied.”

Capitol siege lays bare GOP electoral misinformation in Harrisburg

Democratic senators already have called for Mastriano’s resignation. The south-central Pennsylvania lawmaker’s campaign organized buses for Trump supporters to travel from Adams County to D.C. on Jan. 6. 

State records show he used campaign funds to hire coach buses in the days before the event. 

Lawmakers said Wednesday that voters deserve to know whether anyone who traveled to D.C. with Mastriano’s help participated in the riot, and whether his campaign benefited from the funds he collected. A Facebook post shows he charged $25 bus fare for adults and $10 for children.

“Despite the clear threat of violence that was widely publicized, [Mastriano] organized bus rides from Central Pennsylvania to D.C. and proudly marched with people who attacked officers in uniform,” Sen. Tim Kearney, D-Chester, said. “At best, his behavior is beyond irresponsible and he is not fit to hold any elected office.”

Mastriano’s campaign and Senate office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. 

The former Army colonel has been one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in Harrisburg. Since last fall, he’s used his state office and formidable social media following to amplify false data supporting Trump’s claim that his victory in Pennsylvania was “stolen” by a flood of fraudulent mail-in ballots.

It was at Mastriano’s request that the Senate Majority Policy Committee convened a public hearing on election security in November, where Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others aired unsubstantiated claims about election fraud. 

Mastriano was also one of a half-dozen state lawmakers who appeared at a Harrisburg rally on Nov. 7, shortly after the news media called Pennsylvania for Biden. 

Speaking in front of thousands of Trump supporters, including armed militants, Mastriano said that “[Democrats] don’t want it secure and safe. They want to cheat in the election, and they will.” 

Mastriano was part of a small, but vocal, minority of Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers who openly embraced Trump’s conspiracy theories in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. 

But dozens more Republican legislators voiced broader constitutional arguments criticizing the role of the Secretary of State and state Supreme Court in the 2020 election, saying they overstepped their authority issuing directives to county election officials. 

More than 70 members of the state House and Senate, including House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, appealed to Congress to vote down the state’s electoral college slate — a move that would effectively reject the popular vote count that had already been certified by local and state election officials.

House and Senate GOP leaders also supplied evidence in a lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General, which aimed to overturn the state’s vote count. 

These claims “culminated in the unthinkable violence at the United States Capitol – homegrown terrorism, fueled by lies in Pennsylvania,” according McClinton, the House Democratic floor leader. 

Some rank-and-file House Republicans have said their colleagues bear some responsibility for the Capitol siege. But in the days after the attack, Republican leadership did not have a position on internal disciplinary actions.

Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the House Republican caucus, did not reply to specific questions on consequences this week.

Instead, both House and Senate Republicans wrote off the effort as nothing more than political showboating. 

Gottesman accused Democrats of mounting a “campaign-minded political stunt” while House Republicans were focused on the future.

“It’s fitting that a group of Democrats who spent tens of millions of dollars during the last election cycle and still lost seats are trying to cling to the past,” added Jenn Kocher, a Senate Republican spokesperson.

Republicans have said they want to move on from 2020. But the election and state voting laws will be under review by a special Senate committee and in a series of 14 House hearings scheduled until early May.

Without apologies, Pa. Republicans forge ahead with election hearings spree

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.

Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.