© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) uses a cell phone while walking to the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 2, 2023. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Republican congressman’s court battle to protect his cell phone records has prevented federal investigators from reviewing over 2,200 documents in their investigation of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 election, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.
The newspaper published links to previously sealed opinions by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, chief judge for the District of Columbia, which found that “powerful public interest” outweighed Republican Representative Scott Perry’s asserted need for secrecy under the U.S. Constitution.
Perry – a Trump ally who helped spread false claims that the 2020 election was stolen through widespread voting fraud – has sought to prevent the Justice Department from reviewing the contents of his cellphone since it was seized last summer.
The lawmaker maintains that his cellphone’s contents are shielded from disclosure under a constitutional provision that gives members of Congress immunity from civil litigation or criminal prosecution for actions arising in the course of their legislative duties.
Perry’s conduct is under scrutiny by Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office because of the prominent role Perry played in the lead-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by thousands of Trump supporters trying to block Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
An investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Jan. 6 committee last year revealed Perry was in frequent contact with Trump White House officials in the weeks before the attack.
On Thursday, an attorney for Perry asked an appellate court to reverse Howell’s lower court ruling that his communications were not within a “legitimate legislative sphere.” A Justice Department attorney urged the judicial panel not to block his cellphone from investigators.
Howell had ordered Perry to turn over 2,055 SMS text messages, emails and attachments out of 2,219 documents contained on his phone, after concluding that they were only incidentally related to his status as a lawmaker and not central to that role as a member of Congress.
She said Perry had sought to protect “random musings with private individuals” as well as “political discussions with attorneys from a presidential campaign” and “state legislators concerning hearings before them about possible local election fraud,” according to the Post.