Probe launched after ballots cast for Trump found 'discarded' in Pennsylvania, move slammed as 'bizarre'

Probe launched after ballots cast for Trump found 'discarded' in Pennsylvania, move slammed as 'bizarre'
Trump (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has been raging against the use of mail-in ballots for the November 3 presidential election, saying it would lead to widespread malpractice. His opponents, on the other hand, have backed the idea saying it would help in preventing the spread of the coronavirus which has already claimed more than 200,000 lives in the country.

Trump’s fear is set to double now after a top federal prosecutor in the key state of Pennsylvania announced on Thursday, September 24, that his office was conducting a probe into a small number of military ballots that were cast for the president but were found “discarded”.

President Donald Trump at a MAGA rally in Pennsylvania (Getty Images)

According to a report in Reuters, David Freed, US attorney for the Middle East District of Pennsylvania, made the highly unusual public statement to add that his office and the FBI were investigating the incident that occurred in Luzerne County which is located in northeastern Pennsylvania and includes Wilkes-Barre. As many as nine military ballots had been “improperly opened” by elections staff and “discarded”, Freed said in a letter addressed to a county election official on September 23. He added that seven of those nine ballots were found outside their official envelopes and cast in favor of Trump. 

“The majority of the recovered materials were found in an outside dumpster,” Freed said. He added that the findings were “troubling” but has not yet filed any charges. The official also said that the investigation remained active but yet he was releasing the information now because the general election is not far (39 days from now) and the “vital public importance” of such issues. 

Trump has vowed to win Pennsylvania, which has 20 electoral votes, to clinch a second term. Even though he is trailing his Democratic opponent Joe Biden on key states ahead of Election Day, yet the president is leaving no stone unturned to win the Keystone State which he won by a thin margin four years ago. It was only after 1988 that a Republican candidate succeeded in winning Pennsylvania.


David Freed (Wikimedia Commons)

Freed’s revelation, however, did not go down well with some former  Justice Department officials who felt there was no valid reason for him to disclose the discarded ballots were marked for the president, the Reuters report added. “This is both bizarre and disturbing,” David Laufman, a former Justice Department official, said on Twitter. “U.S. Attorney’s Offices don’t issue reports on pending investigations — and certainly not reports so blatantly contrived to provide political ballast for a sitting President’s campaign narrative.”




Trump was quick to respond to the revelation. In a post that he pinned, the president tweeted a video of Tucker Carlson reading out the news of the Pennsylvania incident on Fox and captioned it: “Democrats are Rigging our 2020 Election!”




He also told Fox News Radio: “They found six ballots in an office yesterday, in a garbage can. They were Trump ballots. Eight ballots, in an office yesterday in a certain state. ... This is what's going to happen. And we're investigating that.”

White House Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also addressed the issue saying: "I can confirm for you that Trump ballots, ballots for the President, were found in Pennsylvania, and I believe you should be getting more information about that shortly.” The justice department’s announcement on the matter came after that. 

The initial news released by the justice department said “all nine ballots” were cast for President Trump. Hours later, the department deleted the release from its website and came up with a corrected announcement, saying seven of the nine presidential votes were for the incumbent. Trump on September 23 also spoke on the mail-in ballot issue at the White House to say: “We want to make sure the election is honest and I’m not sure that it can be. I don’t know that it can be with this whole situation, unsolicited ballots.”


Justice dept trying to help Trump?

CNN, meanwhile, reported that Freed’s statement was highly unusual as it said the ballots were cast in favor of the incumbent. It said the statement raised suspicions that the Justice Department was trying to help Trump’s cause for a political gain. “Indeed, Trump and other White House aides used the information, even before it was made public, to attack mail-in voting,” the report added. Attorney General William Barr has also echoed Trump's thought in attacking mail-in balloting, saying it will only lead to fraudulence.

It said that election officials take extraordinary precautions to protect secret ballots and questioned how investigators discovered who the votes were for and why they made the news public. “Additionally, the Justice Department typically does not comment about ongoing investigations, though there are rules allowing it when there is a public interest at stake, like election integrity,” the report said. 

The probe apparently followed after Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salvantis made a request. The Republican said on Tuesday, September 22, that federal investigators were helping in an election issue. Freed is also a Republian who was appointed by Trump in 2017 though he did not allege that the incident in Pennsylvania had a political motivation.


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 top federal prosecutor says probe into discarded trump ballots found in pennsylvania bizarre move