The Department of Justice (DOJ) told prosecutors early Wednesday that armed federal agents are allowed in ballot counting centers to investigate potential voter fraud, The New York Times reported.
Three people who described the message told the Times that the 1:30 a.m. email from Richard Donoghue said the law that bans armed federal authorities from being at the polls on Election Day does not apply to polling stations and locations that are counting ballots after that day.
In the email, the principal associate deputy attorney general said the law “does not prevent armed federal law enforcement persons from responding to, investigate, or prevent federal crimes at closed polling places or at other locations where votes are being counted.”
Former officials told the newspaper that the email seemed like an apparent way to intimidate local election officials or intrude on ballot counting and another way Attorney General William BarrBill BarrDOJ tells prosecutors armed federal agents are allowed in ballot counting centers: report Judge allows Trump police panel to publish report, but with disclaimer Why it’s time for a majority female Cabinet MORE was following Trump’s public comments.
Vanita Gupta, the acting head of the department’s Civil Rights Department under President Obama, told the Times that the DOJ can’t legally “interfere in the vote count, enter polling places or take ballots, even in the course of an investigation.”
At most, federal officials can “copy and inspect” but “ballots stay in the hands of local election officials,” she said.
The DOJ did not immediately return a request for comment.
Donoghue’s email came about an hour before Trump spoke early Wednesday morning, in which he started calling for officials to stop counting votes in states where he was leading and falsely declared himself the winner of the presidential election.
The Trump campaign on Wednesday filed lawsuits in several states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, as more ballots were counted.
The 2020 election brought in an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, delaying the counting and results from several states and leaving the results of the presidential election up in the air.
For months, Trump has spread unfounded claims that mail-in voting opens up the election to fraud and is seizing on those claims in states that he is not leading.