Trump ally Perry pauses suit amid talks with U.S. over seized cellphone

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FILE PHOTO - U.S. Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas, U.S., August 5, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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WASHINGTON, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Republican U.S. congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, an ally of former President Donald Trump, on Wednesday asked a federal court to put on hold his lawsuit against the Justice Department seeking to block investigators from searching the contents of his cellphone after it was seized this month.

Perry, who has helped spread Trump's false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud, was vacationing with his family in New Jersey on Aug. 9 when three FBI agents approached him with a search warrant to seize his cellphone.

He sued the Justice Department last week. But in a filing on Wednesday Perry's lawyers disclosed that the department had since reached out to negotiate over how the phone search would be conducted and they asked to pause the lawsuit.

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The Justice Department has not explained its reason for seizing the device, but it appears to have been linked to its investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack by Trump supporters and efforts by his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden.

Perry's actions are being investigated separately by the House of Representatives select committee looking into the Jan. 6 events.

The congressman was in contact with Trump White House officials in the weeks before the Capitol attack in which rioters sought to prevent Congress from certifying the election results. During a select committee hearing in June, lawmakers heard witness testimony that Perry sought a pardon from Trump before he left office. Perry has denied making such a request.

In his lawsuit, publicly disclosed late on Tuesday after being filed in federal court in Washington on Aug. 18, Perry's attorneys said he asked the Justice Department not to seek a second warrant to search the cellphone's contents.

The cellphone, the lawyers said, contains information protected under what is called the U.S. Constitution's speech and debate clause, a provision that can shield legislative activities from legal liability, as well as material covered by protections for attorney-client interactions and spousal communications.

In support of their proposal, they cited a case in which the federal appeals court in Washington laid out a method for how search warrants can be carried out against members of Congress. That approach involves letting a lawmaker review the materials to weed out any that are protected, and show those records to the court for a final determination.

In their emergency motion, Perry's lawyers said prosecutors threatened to seek a second warrant to search the phone unless both parties could reach an agreement to review the contents simultaneously to weed out protected material.

An attorney for Perry previously told Reuters that the congressman was not a target of its probe.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington is investigating a failed bid by Trump allies to submit phony slates of electors - people chosen to formally cast a state's electoral votes in the U.S. Electoral College system - to the National Archives in a scheme to overturn his election loss.

The seizure of Perry's cellphone came after federal agents executed similar search warrants on former top Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark as well as John Eastman, an attorney who wrote a memo outlining a proposal he said could be used by then-Vice President Mike Pence to thwart the congressional election certification.

Clark tried to convince then-Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen to send Georgia state officials a letter falsely claiming that the Trump Justice Department had uncovered fraud and urging them to convene a special session to consider submitting an alternative slate of electors who would back Trump even though Biden won the state. Rosen declined to do so.

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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham

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