The presence of the congressman emphasised how far the former president was willing to go to reverse the election, and Democratic lawmakers have started to call for investigations into such attempts.
He also took a back seat to higher-profile loyalists in President Donald J. Trump‘s circle when Representative Scott Perry joined his colleagues in a months-long effort to undo the outcome of the presidential election, endorsing “Stop the Steal” events and supporting an attempt to overturn millions of legally cast votes.
But Mr. Perry, an outspoken Republican from Pennsylvania, played a major role in the turmoil that took place this month at the top of the Justice Department, when Mr. Trump considered firing the acting attorney general and only backed down when top department officials threatened to resign en masse.
It was Mr. Perry, a member of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, who first made Mr. Trump aware that, according to former administration officials who met with Mr. Clark and Mr. Trump, a comparatively unknown Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, the acting civil division director, was sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s view that the election had been stolen.
Mr. Perry introduced Mr. Clark to the president, whose openness to electoral fraud conspiracy theories provided Mr. Trump with a welcome change from the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, who stood by the election results and consistently defied the president’s attempts to reverse them.
The previously unreported position of Mr. Perry, and the quiet conversations that followed between Mr. Trump and Mr. Clark, underscored how much the former president was able to use the government to subvert the election, appealing to more junior and comparatively unknown figures for assistance as he was rebuffed by ranking Republicans and cabinet members.
The presence of Mr. Perry is also likely to increase criticism of House Republicans who continue to advance Mr. Trump’s baseless and thoroughly debunked accusations of electoral fraud, even after the inauguration of President Biden this week and as Congress prepares for an impeachment trial that will investigate whether the Capitol riot was triggered by such speaking.
It is uncertain when Mr. Perry, who serves the region of Harrisburg, met Mr. Clark, a resident of Philadelphia, or how well they knew each other prior to Mr. Trump’s introduction. It was only in late December that Mr. Clark told Mr. Rosen about the introduction brokered by Mr. Perry, who was among the thousands of people feeding Mr. Trump the false expectation that he had won the election, former Trump administration officials said.
Yet Mr. Trump is extremely unlikely to have met Mr. Clark otherwise. Department officials were surprised to learn that Mr. Clark had been personally called by the president on many occasions and that the two had met in person without alerting Mr. Rosen, the officials said. The policy of the Justice Department stipulates that the president initially talks on all matters with the attorney general or the deputy attorney general, and then, if allowed, a lower-level official.
As the deadline for Congress to affirm the election of Mr. Biden approached, Mr. Perry and Mr. Clark debated a proposal to have the Department of Justice send a letter to Georgia state legislators informing them of a voter fraud investigation that could invalidate the results of the state’s Electoral College. Former officials who were briefed on the proposal said that hundreds of voter fraud investigations nationally by the department had not turned up ample instances of fraud to change the election result.
The proposal was also discussed with Mr. Trump by Mr. Perry and Mr. Clark, setting off a chain of events that almost led to the ouster of Mr. Rosen, who had declined to send the letter.
The political fallout was rapid after The New York Times published the specifics of the scheme on Friday. In a letter on Saturday, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told the Justice Department that he will investigate Mr. Trump and Mr. Clark’s attempts to use the agency “to further Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election results.”
“The majority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, said it was “unconscionable that a leader of the Trump Justice Department would conspire to subvert the will of the people.” He called on the inspector general of the department, Michael E. Horowitz, to investigate “this attempted sedition.
According to a person briefed on the investigation, Mr. Horowitz has already opened an investigation into whether Trump administration officials illegally pressured Byung J. Pak, who unexpectedly resigned this month as the U.S. attorney in Atlanta after being pressured to take steps related to the election. Mr. Durbin is also investigating the matter.
Mr. Trump also attempted to compel officials from the Justice Department, including Mr. Rosen and the acting solicitor general, Jeffrey Wall, to file a complaint before the Supreme Court that, according to an individual briefed on the request, would contest Mr. Biden’s victory.
A brief was also drawn up by one of Mr. Trump’s outside attorneys for the department to file with the court. Department officials and White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone told Mr. Trump that, for many reasons, the proposal would fail, including the fact that the department did not have the grounds to appeal the result, the individual said.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the fight between Mr. Trump and officials from the Justice Department over the Supreme Court filing.
Another example of the disposal of impeachment managers is the episode with Mr. Clark and Mr. Perry, where they put together their argument that Mr. Trump should again be barred from taking office.
Mr. Clark declined to comment on Mr. Perry’s relationship, and he categorically refused to formulate any scheme to remove Mr. Rosen. He said that there had been “a candid discussion with the president of options and pros and cons” that The Times had wrongly portrayed, but he declined to provide details. Because of “the strictures of legal privilege,” he refused to say anything more about his interactions with Mr. Trump or lawyers from the Justice Department.
Asked if his discussions with the president had violated the policy of the department regulating communication with the president, he said that, as part of their duties, senior lawyers at the agency offered legal advice to the White House. All my official communications were law-compliant,” he said.”
The acting head of the Civil Division was appointed in September by Mr. Clark, a member of the Conservative Federalist Society. He also managed the environmental and natural resources division of the department, where he had served under President George W. Bush.
To repeated requests for comment, neither Mr. Perry nor his top aides replied.
Some Senate Republicans have become increasingly concerned, like Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, that if they do not interfere and separate themselves from Mr. Trump, the chaos wrought by the former president might damage the political fortunes of Republicans for years to come. The episode is an unwanted reminder that even though Mr. Trump is no longer in office, negative details about his presidency will continue to surface.
And the position of Mr. Perry in the discussions could further exacerbate tensions in the House, where Republicans were already livid by Democratic lawmakers for fanning the flames before the Capitol riot, with some members of the rank-and-file calling for the dismissal of legislators who led attempts to overturn the election.
Mr. Trump’s pressure on the Department of Justice, including any plans he may have considered to oust Mr. Rosen, also raises legal concerns for him.