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Pa. House speaker details 2020 pressure campaign

Plus, federal gun safety bill unveiled.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 22, 2022
Cutler testifies, complete rewrite, abortion travel, Yass tax, low contact, dangerous delays, and Cosby liable for sex assault. It's Wednesday.

Then-President Donald Trump's pressure campaign around the 2020 election included daily phone calls from his legal team to Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster), all part of an effort to make state legislatures the frontline in the administration's push to void Joe Biden's victory. 

The revelation came during Tuesday's televised hearing of the U.S. House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack, and months after Cutler said he'd received two related calls from Trump himself. 

In pre-recorded testimony, Cutler said he thought the outreach from Trump lawyers Jenna Ellis and Rudy Giuliani was inappropriate and that he had his attorneys ask them to stop. The calls continued.

Cutler also said he was targeted by Trump allies, including one-time White House strategist Steve Bannon, who urged podcast listeners and fellow Trump supporters to protest outside Cutler's home, which they did.

THE CONTEXT: Central to the outreach from Team Trump and others was the baseless belief that state lawmakers could void a state's election results, appoint pro-Trump electors, and override the popular vote.

Cutler and other GOP leaders in Harrisburg denied they could do so, instead opting to send a formal letter urging Congress to reject Pennsylvania's votes, which eight of the state's nine U.S. House Republicans did. 

Among them: U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, who J6 congressional investigators say played an integral role in Trump's election meddling. Perry has refused to speak with the Democrat-led panel. GOP nominee for governor Doug Mastriano, a prominent election denier, is said to be cooperating.

Cutler's testimony comes as the panel works to directly link Trump to the targeting of state lawmakers and "alternate electors scheme."

The panel also is probing the coordination of far-right groups it says orchestrated and instigated the violence seen at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, as Congress met to certify Biden's win. 

A 17-minute New York Times video offers a painstaking look at how one such group, the Proud Boys, worked to incite multiple breaches of the building with help from leaders like Zachary Rehl of Philadelphia.


"I commend my colleagues who have worked tirelessly on this compromise, and I am encouraging all senators to support."

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) on a bipartisan gun safety bill that was unveiled on Tuesday and fast-tracked for a floor vote
A sun-drenched turtle, as seen by Don H. at Canoe Creek State Park. Send us your pics, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
GUN SWAP: State House Republicans on Tuesday blocked a Democrat-led proposal that would have prevented anyone under 21 from possessing assault-style rifles here. The AP reports the House Judiciary Committee, where gun bills have been known to languish, changed the bill into a constitutional amendment that would loosen concealed carry laws instead. Only one Republican voted against the move.

RULING PREP: Expecting the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, as its conservative majority appears poised to do, The Inquirer reports Pennsylvania abortion providers are preparing for a surge of up to 8,500 more patients from states that could quickly lose abortion access. Abortion will remain legal in Pennsylvania without Roe, but long-term access here could hinge on this year's governor's race.

TAX TRICKS: The richest man in Pennsylvania is a political mega-donor who avoided paying more than $1 billion in taxes in just six years, ProPublica reports. Jeff Yass — who uses his fortune to back political candidates who also support tax cuts and privatizing public schools — has honed a tax avoidance strategy that one expert called "very suspicious and suggestive of potential abuse..."

ODD COUPLE: While Democratic U.S. Senate and gubernatorial nominees John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro are uniting in the run-up to November, their Republican rivals, Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano, haven't said if they'll campaign together or whether they've even met, per the AP. But Mastriano has been in touch with Dan Cox, a candidate for Maryland governor with striking similarities, per the Sun.

MISSED FIXES: For a quarter of a century, inspectors urged repairs on Pittsburgh's Fern Hollow Bridge, but the city failed to carry out most of the work, the Post-Gazette found. In January, the bridge collapsed, injuring nine people and renewing scrutiny of Pennsylvania's beleaguered infrastructure. The PG says the failure to make repairs jeopardized the safety of thousands of motorists who crossed the bridge each day.

BILL MOVE: A bill that bars school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from pre-K through fifth grade and restricts it for other grades was sent to the full Senate in a party-line committee vote on Tuesday, CNHI reports. Here are the kinds of conversations the bill aims to stop.

COSBY VERDICT: Bill Cosby has been found liable for sexually assaulting a teenager at the Playboy Mansion in 1975, per CNN. Judy Huth, now 64, was awarded $500,000 in damages. Cosby, who denied all of the allegations, was freed from Pennsylvania prison in a different case last year.

NEW STUDENTS: The University of Pittsburgh School of Law is among the U.S. law schools now funding degrees for Ukrainian lawyers, Reuters reports. Pitt will bring on half a dozen Ukrainian lawyers to spend a year studying and doing pro bono work related to their home country.

FULL RIDE: East Stroudsburg South High School grad Sydni Smith was accepted by 57 colleges and awarded $1.8 million in scholarships, telling the Pocono Record: "I'm indecisive and I didn't want to just apply to one school..." Smith will attend the University of Michigan.

CAPITOL ZOO: Zoo Day returned to the state Capitol on Tuesday with a menagerie that inspired budget season analogies from the political reports on scene. The budget is due June 30. A deal could be close.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

This week's theme: Geology
Yesterday's answer: Sedimentary

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Karen W., David S., Hugh M., Vicki U., John A., Irene R., Eddy Z., Beth T., Don H., Elaine C., Judith D., Doris T., Susan D., Susan N.-Z., Elizabeth W., Deborah S., Dianne K., George S., Jude M., Joel S., Craig E., James B., Bill S., Kyle C., David W., Daniel M., John P., Joan S., Kim C., John W., Pat B., and Johnny C.


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