Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania plan to formally launch hearings as part of an investigation into the 2020 vote in the state, the latest GOP-backed effort to revisit an election that former President Donald Trump has falsely claimed was fraudulent.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Republican, said this week that lawmakers are pursuing a “full forensic investigation” of the election that will aim to examine ballots and voter rolls.
“I don’t necessarily have faith in the results,” he told conservative media personality Wendy Bell in an interview live-streamed on Facebook on Monday. “I think that there were many problems in our election that we need to get to the bottom of.”
Corman said the hearings could begin as soon as this week. A spokesman declined to offer specifics but said they would take place in “the very near future.”
The Pennsylvania investigation is the latest sign of how Republican leaders in key battleground states are bowing to ongoing pressure from Trump and his base to investigate baseless allegations that voting irregularities tainted the November election.
In Arizona, Trump supporters are awaiting a report on a review of ballots cast in Maricopa County, which was temporarily delayed after contractors conducting the audit tested positive for the coronavirus. A similar effort has been launched in Wisconsin: State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, said he met with Trump last weekend and “provided him details about our robust efforts . . . to restore full integrity and trust in elections.”
Election security experts and Democrats have criticized the Arizona ballot review as sloppy and biased and have said that attempts to pursue similar partisan efforts around the county will serve to further undermine public faith in the outcome.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has decried the pursuit of a “forensic audit” in his state as a “sham.”
“This is a disgrace to democracy – not to mention a profound waste of time and taxpayer money,” Wolf tweeted in July. “I won’t stand for it.”
Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania have sought an investigation of the 2020 election since late last year, capitulating to demands from Trump and his supporters to scrutinize President Biden’s 80,555-vote win in the state – despite a lack of evidence of voter fraud.
Corman said this week that he wants to ensure the investigation produces results that are credible with all Pennsylvanians.
“I’m not interested in grandstanding,” he told Bell, adding: “I’m interested in results. I’m interested in getting things done and getting done with credibility so that it will withstand not just Republican eyes or supporters of the former president but all eyes who see this.”
Corman also noted he spoke to Trump about the effort. “I think he’s comfortable where we’re heading,” Corman said of the former president.
To lead the investigation, Corman tapped Sen. Cris Dush, a Republican, replacing Sen. Doug Mastriano, a Republican, a Trump ally and vocal proponent of the “Stop the Steal” movement. Corman said Mastriano, who had been leading the effort, was overly focused on his own publicity.
Dush and Mastriano traveled to Arizona in June to meet with leaders of its widely denigrated ballot review. Both men were also involved in a quiet effort in December to persuade a number of Pennsylvania counties to participate in voluntary audits of their ballots, as The Washington Post previously reported.
No specific plans have been shared for the investigation in Pennsylvania, including details about its scope, timetable or which private companies might be hired to help. A staffer for Dush on Tuesday referred questions to Corman communications director Jason Thompson, who wrote in an email that “the finer details are still being worked out during this transition period.”
Thompson said that the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee, which Dush chairs, is “planning its own series of hearings that are specific to the investigation in the very near future.”
The probe does not have a target end date, he wrote, adding: “We will not set any arbitrary cap. We intend to go wherever the evidence leads us.”
Expressing hopes that the results of the Arizona audit will boost momentum in Pennsylvania, Corman told Bell he is committed to an investigation with “no ceiling” and wrote in a statement Monday that the probe will also use subpoena powers to gather evidence.
“This audit is intended to go much further than previous reviews mandated by state law, which have focused on whether the reported counts are ‘accurate,’ ” Corman wrote. “The goal of the Senate’s investigation will not be to conduct a recount, but to find any flaws in the system that could be exploited by bad actors and take action to correct those flaws through legislative changes to our Election Code.”
“We can bring people in,” he told Bell. “We can put them under oath, we can subpoena records, and that’s what we need to do, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Corman said he hoped to involve people who would be seen as “neutral arbiters.”
“I think it’s important that we get people involved that don’t have ties to anybody, that are professional, that will do the job so that we can stand behind the results,” he said.
In his own statement Friday, Dush – whom Corman has described as an “Air force veteran who has led numerous investigations in the military” – pushed back against allegations from Mastriano and his allies that he was given control of the investigation “for the purpose of killing it.”
“The opposite is true,” he stated. “We should have been having hearings and moving toward a more formalized plan to conduct an investigation weeks ago. My team and I are in the process of getting things organized and will work with Senate Leadership to get it done.”
Dush also suggested he would not be providing details on the investigation’s progress, warning the public: “You may be frustrated with not hearing updates as quickly as you would like, but there is an investigative need to hold that evidence close until the review is completed.”
Mastriano accused Corman on Monday of “slithering behind my back” to take away control of the investigation, calling his actions “reprehensible.”
“I worked in good faith to make this happen here, and he was constantly kicking it down the road, and always another excuse, always another question. . . . I needed the people of Pennsylvania to see what was going on behind the scenes, because all I saw was more politicking,” Mastriano told One America News, the conservative news network.
Corman told Bell that a precise investigation that could withstand scrutiny from the courts was “not a priority” for Mastriano and expressed regrets that the squabbling had become public.
“To get this accomplished, to get this done and get it done, as I said, with credibility, I need someone that’s not interested in going on television all the time or interested in going around the state holding rallies all the time. I’m interested in someone who wants to do the hard work to get this done and get it done with credibility,” he said.