Secret suspension restricts DOJ’s offer to access phone of Trump ally Rep. Scott Perry
The fight has intensified in recent weeks and has drawn the House, newly led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, into the fray. The chamber on Friday decided to intervene in the back and forth to allow the DOJ access to the phone of House Freedom Caucus chairman Perry, reflecting the case’s potential to lead to precedent-setting rulings on the extent to which legislators can be protected. scrutiny in criminal investigations.
The House’s decision to intervene in court cases is governed by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a five-member group that includes McCarthy, his Democratic counterpart Hakeem Jeffries and other members of House leadership. The panel voted unanimously to support the House’s intervention in the matter, seeking to protect the chamber’s prerogatives, according to one of the two people familiar with the proceedings.
FBI agents seized Perry’s phone with a court-approved warrant in August, but still don’t have the second level of court clearance needed to begin going through records. Perry claimed that his communications were excluded from outside scrutiny because of constitutional protections afforded to members of Congress, designed to allow lawmakers to better carry out their official responsibilities.
Perry first challenged the DOJ’s authority to access his communications in a public lawsuit in August, filed shortly after his phone was seized. He argued that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause barred the government from accessing messages he might have sent as part of his job as a congressman. Perry would soon drop the lawsuit, and the status of prosecutors’ efforts to access his records remained unclear.
More than four months after the government obtained Perry’s phone, Howell sided with the DOJ. While Howell’s rulings in the dispute remain sealed, along with any justification the appeals court judges may have offered for their actions, certain details of the fight appear in that court’s public record.
On Jan. 5, according to the filing, a three-judge appeals court panel temporarily suspended Howell’s decision. The appeals panel handling the case — which includes Trump appointees Neomi Rao and Gregory Katsas, as well as Karen Henderson, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush — rejected prosecutors’ immediate attempt to access Perry’s documents. Those justices instead set a schedule for additional closing arguments, including oral argument Feb. 23 at the federal courthouse in Washington.
Perry is a crucial figure in the ongoing investigation into Trump’s attempts to reverse his loss to Joe Biden. House and Senate investigations described Perry as an important Trump ally during the chaotic weeks between the 2020 election and Jan. 6, 2021, when a crowd of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol. with the aim of disrupting the transfer of power.
The current Freedom Caucus chairman helped orchestrate a plan for Trump to replace DOJ leadership with figures more likely to support his unfounded efforts to pressure states to overturn election results. Additionally, Perry frequently participated in strategy sessions and calls with Trump and other high-profile aides, and the Jan. 6 select committee recovered several text messages between Perry and former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. , discussing the department’s leadership plans, as well as other issues related to the 2020 election.
As Chief Justice of the U.S. District Court, Howell, an appointee of President Barack Obama, oversees all grand jury cases, including those associated with the Trump campaign investigation. While grand juries and associated legal fights typically take place under a shroud of secrecy, some aspects of the Trump investigation have recently come to light or leaked. Howell herself released details in December that revealed prosecutors had prioritized obtaining Perry’s emails with several Trump world attorneys as early as last spring.
Several other secret grand jury battles have lined up the role of the appeals court in recent months. In September, Howell backed DOJ efforts to unravel executive privilege claims tied to testimony from aides to former Vice President Mike Pence, and reports suggest Howell made a similar decision late in the year. last year involving former White House lawyers.