Top Pa. Senate Republican expects subpoenas will be necessary for election investigation

The Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee is scheduled to kick off its probe on Thursday

By: - September 7, 2021 3:35 pm

GOP Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, reacts to Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

 (*This story was updated at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 9/7/21, to include comment from the Department of State.)

Saying he’s doubtful the state agency responsible for election oversight will cooperate with a taxpayer-funded investigation into Pennsylvania’s two most recent elections, the top Senate Republican expects subpoenas will be the next step.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, isn’t hopeful acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid will participate in the first hearing as part of a probe into the 2020 general and 2021 primary elections. 

Currently scheduled for Thursday, the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee meeting will focus on guidance issued by the Department of State to counties during the 2020 election.

“My guess is she won’t come,” Corman said of Degraffenreid during a podcast interview with former Trump administration adviser Steve Bannon. “If they do not come in and cooperate, then we will begin to issue subpoenas to get the information that we’re looking for from the Department of State.”

A spokesperson for the Department of State told the Capital-Star that no one from the agency will participate in the hearing, saying that it “directly relates to ongoing litigation filed against the department by members of the General Assembly.”

Corman accused Degraffenreid, who took over after former Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar resigned in February, of “intimidating” county leaders since the review began, citing a July directive that bans third-party access to election equipment.

Corman, who has argued that there were election “irregularities” in 2020, tapped Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, to replace Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, as the panel’s chairperson.

Dush invited the Department of State and local officials to testify. The 11-member panel also invited the public to submit “any potential violations of election law or voting irregularities they have witnessed personally” to an online form. The committee could ask those who submit information to sign an affidavit and testify under oath at a future hearing.

In an August statement, Dush said the purpose of the investigation is “to uncover information” for potential legislative action. His office has referred questions about the review to Corman, who said the review is not a recount

Jason Thompson, a spokesperson for Corman, told the Capital-Star that the taxpayers will be paying for the probe. He added that the panel will also incorporate hearings conducted by the Senate State Government Committee, which began last month with testimony from the Department of State, as part of the investigation.

But if the Department of State fails to participate in Thursday’s hearing, Corman said the Senate panel should “quickly” issue subpoenas to acquire election information.

“I don’t want to get too far in front of Cris Dush, but that would be my intention and my desire,” Corman told Bannon. “Again, I think we have to be prepared that they’re not going to cooperate.”

Two post-election reviews — a statistical sampling required by law and a risk-limiting audit — were conducted after the 2020 election in Pennsylvania. Sixty-three out of the commonwealth’s 67 counties participated in the risk-limiting audit pilot, and neither assessment found evidence of fraud.

Certified results show that former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election by 80,555 votes in Pennsylvania. In the same cycle, Republicans triumphed in state races — maintaining their legislative majorities in Harrisburg. 

The latest review also comes after the House State Government Committee hosted 10 hearings with 52 testifiers on the 2020 general election.

Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, is the only GOP senator to publicly oppose the review, which could resemble the controversial Republican-backed election investigation in Arizona.

In July, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, sent a letter to Corman and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, urging them to stop the review. Costa and Williams sit on the committee responsible for the investigation. Gov. Tom Wolf called the investigation a “disgrace to democracy,” and Attorney General Josh Shapiro dubbed it a “sham” that will create chaos and promised to challenge the review legally.

“The attorney general was on the ballot the last election as well, so he sort of has a conflict,” Corman told Bannon. “Our auditor general, a Republican who was elected, who we asked to do an audit, said he didn’t feel that he could do it because he was on the ballot the last election.”

Six lawmakers, who sit on the Senate committee, were elected during the 2020 general election, including Sens. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango, David Argall, R-Schuylkill, Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, Dush, Costa, and Mastriano.

“We’re going to invite county employees, county officials, who may have a story to tell about how things went down on Election Day,” Corman said, noting that he isn’t sure which counties the committee will focus on. “We’re not subpoenaing their information as of yet, but we’ll probably get to that point soon.”

He added: “If we have to get emails, if we have to get communications, we want to know.”

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