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GOP Rep. Scott Perry sues for return of phone data seized by federal investigators

NBC News 8/24/2022 Daniel Barnes and Dareh Gregorian
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Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a close Trump ally, has filed suit against the Department of Justice demanding all cell phone data seized by federal agents earlier this month be returned to him.

In an emergency motion filed in Washington, D.C., federal court, Perry asked a judge to order investigators to return his phone data and bar them from obtaining or reviewing additional phone records held by his cell provider, AT&T.

His lawyers also requested the judge issue a temporary restraining order blocking investigators from accessing the data while the request is pending.

NBC News has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.

Perry was on vacation with his family in New Jersey on Aug. 9 when he was approached by three federal agents who seized his phone, the court filing said. The agents had a search warrant for the device and Perry got the physical phone back that same day, after agents created a virtual image of its data.

According to the warrant, the phone data was to be taken to the Justice Department Inspector General's forensic lab in Northern Virginia. However, the initial warrant only authorized the seizure of the phone, meaning investigators would have to get a second warrant from a judge before actually going through the data.

In his filing, Perry argued that the phone contains information protected by marital and attorney-client privilege as well the speech and debate clause of the U.S. Constitution, which grants lawmakers legal protections for legislative acts.

The suit contends the government doesn't have the authority to search the data, and it should either be returned or agents should be limited in what they review.

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Perry's phone was taken less than 24 hours after FBI agents executed a search warrant at former President Donald Trump's Florida resort, recovering a trove of classified and top secret documents.

After the seizure, Perry's attorney, John Irving, said in a statement that the DOJ had informed him that Perry “is not a target of its investigation.”

It's unclear why Perry's phone was seized. He has, however, come under scrutiny by the House committee investigating Jan. 6.

The panel has said it has evidence “from multiple witnesses” that Perry was involved in efforts to make former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark the acting attorney general during the final months of the Trump administration. Clark was an advocate of Trump's false election claims and wanted the DOJ to take action challenging the election results.

Agents executed a search warrant at Clark’s home in June, and seized the phone of John Eastman, a Trump lawyer who also pushed bogus election claims, that same day.

Both of those warrants appeared to stem from an investigation Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced in January 2021, three days after The New York Times first reported the extent to which Clark sought to help Trump use the department to push his bogus claims of election fraud. The inspector general’s website says the office is examining “the role and activity of DOJ and its components in preparing for and responding to the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.”

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