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How a Pennsylvania state senator helped fuel Trump’s election lies

<i>Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto/Getty Images</i><br/>
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto/Getty Images

By Jeremy Herb and Sara Murray, CNN

Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano went out of his way to help advance former President Donald Trump‘s election lies: He spearheaded a “hearing” at a hotel in Gettysburg a few weeks after the 2020 election, where Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani made false claims about election fraud. He chartered buses to ferry his supporters to Washington on January 6. And he was briefly in charge of the Pennsylvania state Senate’s partisan “audit” of the 2020 election.

Now Mastriano’s role behind the scenes helping Trump try to overturn his loss to Joe Biden is under renewed scrutiny after a Democrat-led Senate Judiciary report released last week revealed his correspondence with the Justice Department spreading debunked claims of fraud. Mastriano is one of three under-the-radar figures the report singles out for further investigation for their efforts helping Trump try to subvert the election.

Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, introduced Trump to a top DOJ official who was open to election conspiracy theories. Attorney Cleta Mitchell helped Trump try to convince Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” enough votes for him to win. And Mastriano pushed his fraud claims to the No. 2 Justice official while Trump was trying to convince then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to publicly say there was fraud in the election, according to the report.

“Election fraud is real and prevalent in Pennsylvania. Yet, despite evidence, our Governor and Secretary of State inexplicably refuse to investigate,” Mastriano wrote in a December 28 letter to acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue.

The Pennsylvania state senator was perhaps the least well-known of those aiding Trump’s pressure campaign, but he has looked to parlay his role fighting Trump’s post-election battles into a more prominent position in Pennsylvania Republican politics, including flirting with a run for governor next year.

Still, his path to a statewide race and what would be a crowded GOP primary has been a bumpy one. In May, Mastriano said that Trump asked him to run for governor and would campaign for him. A Trump campaign adviser, however, responded to Mastriano’s comments on Twitter saying that Trump “has not made any endorsement or commitments yet” in the governor’s race.

Mastriano was initially put in charge of the Pennsylvania state Senate’s Arizona-style “audit” of the 2020 election, giving him a prominent perch to push Trump’s fraud claims. But Mastriano’s efforts to force counties to hand over troves of data prompted the Senate’s Republican president to remove him from leading the ballot review in August, putting a different lawmaker in charge of the ongoing effort.

And Mastriano has faced lingering questions about his actions related to the January 6 attack at the US Capitol after photos emerged of him on the Capitol grounds, though he’s insisted he did not cross “shifting” police lines that day.

Mastriano, 57, has since stood by the debunked claims of election fraud in Pennsylvania, where Biden beat Trump by more than 80,000 votes.

He made a hyperbolic comparison in a June interview with CNN, saying, “I’ve seen better elections in Afghanistan.”

In a statement to local news outlets last week, Mastriano criticized the Senate report, saying, “The hyper partisan Senate Judiciary Committee report is another attempt to distract from real issues that need attention at the federal level.”

Mastriano did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment for this story.

A forum for Trump

Mastriano served in the Army for 30 years, including deploying to Iraq for the first Gulf War and to Afghanistan three times. According to his state Senate biography, he earned a doctorate degree in history, taught at the Army War College and published a book on a famous World War I Army soldier, Alvin York.

After retiring from the military in 2017, Mastriano launched a 2018 campaign for Congress, finishing fourth out of eight candidates in the Republican primary for an open seat. The following year, Mastriano won a special election for his state Senate seat in rural, southern Pennsylvania.

After the 2020 election, Mastriano embraced wild and debunked election conspiracy theories from Trump and Giuliani. He organized an event in Gettysburg that was billed as a committee hearing but functioned as a platform for Giuliani, who testified, and Trump, who called in, to voice their election conspiracies.

The following week, Trump invited Mastriano and other Pennsylvania GOP state legislators to the White House, but Mastriano had to abruptly leave after he and others tested positive for Covid-19.

Pressuring DOJ

Behind the scenes, Mastriano was helping Trump try to convince the Justice Department of election fraud. The Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic report shows Mastriano forwarded Donoghue a letter in December 2020 with numerous false and debunked claims about election fraud in Pennsylvania, which was later sent to Rosen, according to the panel.

“This election is an embarrassment to our nation,” Mastriano wrote in his memo.

Trump, in a December 27 call with Rosen, cited both Mastriano and Perry when he urged Rosen to say there was fraud in the election.

“The President said something to the effect of, you know, ‘People were trying to address this problem, Scott Perry and Mastriano. Jim Jordan, he’s a big fighter, but they can’t do it in their own capacities,'” Donoghue told the committee.

At the Capitol on January 6

Pennsylvania state campaign finance records show Mastriano spent more than $3,000 from his campaign account to charter buses to Washington ahead of the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, Mastriano condemned the violence in a video posted on Facebook. But video and pictures from the event show him near the Capitol, raising questions about his involvement.

“He and his wife took part in the January 6 insurrection, with video footage confirming that they passed through breached barricades and police lines at the US Capitol,” the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote.

Mastriano has said that police lines shifted during the day. No evidence has emerged showing him inside the Capitol.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and other Democrats called for Mastriano’s resignation following January 6, but he pushed forward with the lies about election fraud.

Removed from leading a ‘forensic investigation’

In July, Mastriano announced plans for his own “forensic investigation” into Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results, and he visited the partisan Arizona ballot review in Maricopa County.

Mastriano unsuccessfully sought extensive voting materials and machines from three Pennsylvania counties. And he soon ran into resistance with Republican State Senate President Jake Corman. Mastriano was stripped of his committee chairmanship in August, and Corman put another Republican in charge of the state Senate’s election audit.

Corman said in a statement that Mastriano was “only ever interested in politics and showmanship and not actually getting things done.”

Mastriano has not yet said whether he will run for governor. The field already includes former GOP Rep. Lou Barletta, who was endorsed by Trump when he was a Republican Senate candidate in Pennsylvania in 2018.

But Trump made clear Wednesday that his false claims of election fraud will steer his political thinking in the next election, saying in a statement that the “single most important thing for Republicans to do” is solve 2020 election fraud.

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