Republican U.S. congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, an ally of former President Donald Trump, has sued the Justice Department in a bid to stop investigators from searching the contents of his cellphone after it was seized this month.
Perry, who has helped spread Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud, was vacationing with his family in New Jersey on Aug. 9 when three FBI agents approached him with a search warrant to seize his cellphone.
The Justice Department has not explained its reason for seizing the device, but it appears to have been linked to its investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack by Trump supporters and efforts by his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden.
Perry’s actions are being investigated separately by the House of Representatives select committee looking into the Jan. 6 events.
The congressman was in contact with Trump White House officials in the weeks before the Capitol attack in which rioters sought to prevent Congress from certifying the election results. During a select committee hearing in June, lawmakers heard witness testimony that Perry sought a pardon from Trump before he left office. Perry has denied making such a request.
In his lawsuit, publicly disclosed late on Tuesday after being filed in federal court in Washington on Aug. 18, Perry’s attorneys said he asked the Justice Department not to seek a second warrant to search the cellphone’s contents.
The phone, the lawyers said, contains information protected under what is called the U.S. Constitution’s speech and debate clause, a provision that can shield legislative activities from legal liability, as well as material covered by protections for attorney-client interactions and spousal communications.
“Rep. Perry requested that the government not seek a second search warrant that would allow them to access the data from his phone and offered to review the information and cooperatively provide the government with whatever information they were seeking, so long as it did not infringe on the Speech and Debate Clause,” they wrote.
In support of their proposal, they cited a case called United States v. Rayburn House Office Building in which the federal appeals court in Washington laid out a method for how search warrants can be carried out against members of Congress.
That approach involves letting a lawmaker review the materials to weed out any that are protected, and show those records to the court for a final determination.
In their emergency motion, Perry’s lawyers said Justice Department attorneys asked him to waive the speech and debate clause privilege. They also said prosecutors threatened to seek a second warrant to search the phone unless both parties can reach an agreement to review the contents simultaneously to weed out material protected by the speech and debate clause.
An attorney for Perry previously told Reuters the Justice Department has said the congressman is not a target of its probe.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington is investigating a failed bid by Trump allies to submit phony slates of electors – people chosen to formally cast a state’s electoral votes in the U.S. Electoral College system – to the National Archives in a scheme to overturn his election loss.
The seizure of Perry’s cellphone came after federal agents executed similar search warrants on former top Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark as well as John Eastman, an attorney who wrote a memo outlining a proposal he said could be used by then-Vice President Mike Pence to thwart the congressional election certification.
Eastman, like Perry, has also filed a legal challenge to the Justice Department’s seizure and search of his cellphone.
Clark tried to convince then-Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen to send Georgia state officials a letter falsely claiming that the Trump Justice Department had uncovered fraud and urging them to convene a special session to consider submitting an alternative slate of electors who would back Trump even though Biden won the state.
After Rosen refused to send it, Clark tried to convince Trump to fire Rosen and install him as acting attorney general. Trump ultimately declined to do so after top Justice Department leaders threatened to resign in protest.
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This content appears as provided to The Globe by the originating wire service. It has not been edited by Globe staff.