Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for our free newsletters.
HARRISBURG — Democrats in the Pennsylvania legislature are calling for the state Senate to investigate a Republican member who attended Wednesday’s Trump rally in Washington and marched to the U.S. Capitol steps before insurrectionists attacked the building.
State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin/Adams), a retired military colonel who is considered a possible candidate for governor in 2022, was seen in social media photos outside the Capitol with Rick Saccone, a former Republican state lawmaker and failed 2018 congressional candidate. In a since-deleted video, Saccone urged Trump supporters to storm the Capitol.
State Sen. Tony Williams (D., Phila.) asked Republicans who control the chamber in a letter Thursday to convene a committee to “ascertain the extent” of any member’s involvement “in the planning and execution of the despicable and unlawful events that left four Americans dead, including one from Pennsylvania, and left a permanent stain on our nation’s conscience, history and international reputation as a bulwark of democracy.”
There’s no indication that Mastriano himself participated in the attack. But Mastriano has elevated his political profile for months by advancing President Donald Trump’s false claims that the Pennsylvania election was stolen.
“All of those who played a part in inciting that violent attempted coup should be ashamed,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a news conference Friday. “Many Republican politicians have willfully and purposefully spread conspiracy theories and disinformation — not misinformation — all of which undermine our democracy. They lie to their constituents, they misled the public about the safety and security of our electoral process. This behavior is absolutely unacceptable, and it has to stop.”
David Thornburgh, who heads the Philadelphia-based nonpartisan, good-government group Committee of Seventy, warned against Republicans continuing to cast doubt on the election.
“We enter dangerous territory, very, very dangerous territory, when we start trying to overturn elections that have been certified, just because we don’t like the outcome,” he said.
Calls for Mastriano to resign began Wednesday, and have come from Democrats in the state House and Senate, as well as in online petitions. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R., Centre) said Thursday that he won’t ask Mastriano to resign.
“One of our fundamental rights is that of peaceful assembly,” Corman said in a statement. Corman said Mastriano “left as the horrific turmoil began to unfold. He assured me that he did not participate in any unlawful activities.”
“Absent facts to the contrary, the Senate has no cause to act,” Corman said.
Neither Mastriano nor his office responded to several requests for comment. In a statement after the attack Wednesday, Mastriano said he did not “condone the violence” that occurred at the U.S. Capitol.
“My wife and I went to Washington, D.C., today to support President Trump,” Mastriano said. “When it was apparent that this was no longer a peaceful protest, my wife and I left the area and made our way out of the area. At no point did we enter the Capitol building, walk on the Capitol steps, or go beyond police lines.”
Mastriano won his Senate seat in a 2019 special election after a failed bid for Congress and was reelected in November. He led a Republican Policy Committee hearing in November that gave Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani a forum for airing false and fantastical claims of voter fraud and election rigging that have been rejected by courts and bipartisan elections officials. At the hearing, Mastriano declared that “the republic is at stake” and that Pennsylvania’s elections were less secure than those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Are we gonna stand aside and watch the republic be ripped out of our hands? It’s time to rise up,” he said at a Trump rally in Washington last month.
Democrats in Harrisburg and good-government groups this week blamed Mastriano and other state Republicans for undermining the public’s trust in the election and helping to fuel Wednesday’s insurrection, which left five people dead.
Senate Democrats called on Corman to investigate if Mastriano planned to go to Washington to “disrupt Congress in the execution of its lawful duty to record the results of the Electoral College.”
“We seek an investigation into conduct by any Senator that violated state and federal law with regard to the attack on our democracy and the rule of law that occurred at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021,” Sen. Anthony Williams said in the letter to GOP leaders, signed by 15 other senators.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D., Allegheny) also called for an investigation and said Mastriano “has questioned the integrity of our elections without evidence, wasted taxpayer resources with sham hearings that claimed fraud without proof, and yesterday he was intimately engaged in the protest at the nation’s capital that ultimately turned into a violent breach of the U.S. Capitol building.”
On Dec. 30, Mastriano wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the top Republicans in Congress, requesting that they “dispute the certification until an investigation is completed.”
The attack in Washington came one day after state Senate Republicans refused to seat Democrat Jim Brewster, of Allegheny County. Brewster’s victory has been certified by the state and upheld by the state Supreme Court, but his Republican opponent, Nicole Ziccarelli, is appealing in federal court over mail ballots with missing dates — which, if thrown out, would change the result.
State Sen. Lindsey Williams (D., Allegheny) pointed to Mastriano’s election rhetoric at a news conference Thursday. “You can’t pour gasoline, light the match, throw the match, and then walk away and say ‘It wasn’t my fault,’” she said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
“They have created and echoed a campaign of lies, disinformation, and fear-mongering,” she said of Republicans. “They have stoked the fire of their base and are completely gutless to stand up to them now.”