WASHINGTON – After denying claims from U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson that his office had a hand in the effort to get Vice President Mike Pence false elector paperwork, Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Kelly has launched an internal probe into his staff's potential involvement.
“Our current chief-of-staff has begun conducting an internal investigation, which Rep. Kelly is aware of and takes seriously," Matt Knoedler, Kelly's press secretary, confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Wednesday afternoon.
Kelly's potential role in the effort to hand Pence false elector paperwork from Wisconsin and Michigan in the minutes before Congress was set to confirm Joe Biden's victory on Jan. 6, 2021, has become a point of contention in recent weeks.
Johnson has maintained that the false elector documents, which texts show his staff attempted to deliver to Pence before being told not to, came from Kelly's office. Kelly has denied the accusation.
But Johnson's office on Wednesday provided the Journal Sentinel with a screenshot of a phone record indicating Sean Riley, Johnson's chief of staff, had a 2-minute phone call with a number associated with former Kelly chief of staff Matt Stroia at 11:58 a.m. Jan. 6.
There is no audio of the conversation, but Johnson spokeswoman Alexa Henning told the Journal Sentinel that the conversation between Riley and Stroia was "about how Kelly's office could get us the electors because they had it." Kelly's office, Henning said, would later deliver those elector packets to Johnson's office.
The Journal Sentinel has not confirmed the nature of the conversation, and Knoedler did not answer follow-up questions about the phone call. A call, text and email to the phone number and an email associated with Stroia were not returned.
Stroia left his post as Kelly's chief of staff in June 2021, taking a job in the private sector, according to a news release from the time.
"Rep. Kelly's office keeps denying that he and Sen. Johnson have spoken, but that is something we have never claimed," Henning said in a statement. "Confirmed from phone records, his former chief of staff spoke to ours. Our office statements have been 100% accurate and true."
Knoedler in a statement prior to the release of the purported phone records said Kelly "is not aware of any conversations taking place between Mr. Stroia, or anyone else from his team, and Sen. Johnson’s staff." He referenced a June interview with an Ohio TV station in which Kelly says he hasn't spoken with Johnson since 2011 and denies knowledge of the exchange.
"And quite frankly when you ask people so what is it that he’s saying we did, I say, ‘Really? Why would somebody think a Congressman from Pennsylvania would have anything to do with the election procedure in Wisconsin?'" Kelly said in the interview.
Johnson last month acknowledged that he communicated with Wisconsin attorney Jim Troupis and his chief of staff by text message at 11:42 a.m. on Jan. 6 about getting Pence a document Troupis described as regarding "Wisconsin electors."
Reilly spoke with Stroia, Johnson's office contends, at 11:58 a.m. And evidence presented at a Jan. 6 committee hearing last month shows Riley texted Pence aide Chris Hodgson at 12:37 p.m. saying Johnson "needs to hand" the false electors from Wisconsin and Michigan to the vice president.
Still, Jan. 6 committee chairman U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson told the Journal Sentinel Tuesday that Kelly's name "didn’t come up" in the committee's investigation into the effort to get Pence the false elector paperwork.
Thompson said the committee doesn't plan to look further into Johnson's involvement at this point. Rather, the Department of Justice is going to be looking into the false elector strategy.
Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.
DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Mike Kelly investigating ties to false elector scheme, Ron Johnson