WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – The Justice Department told federal prosecutors in an e-mail early on Wednesday (Nov 4) that the law allowed them to send armed federal officers to ballot-counting locations around the country to investigate potential voter fraud, according to three people who described the message.
The e-mail created the spectre of the federal government intimidating local election officials or otherwise intervening in vote tallying amid calls by President Donald Trump to end the tabulating in states where he was trailing in the presidential race, former officials said.
A law prohibits the stationing of armed federal officers at polls on Election Day.
But a top official told prosecutors that the department interpreted the statute to mean that they could send armed federal officers to polling stations and locations where ballots were being counted anytime after that.
The statute “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”, the official, Mr Richard Donoghue, told prosecutors in an e-mail that he sent around 1.30am on Wednesday.
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Donoghue, the No. 2 official in the office of the deputy attorney-general, Mr Jeffrey Rosen, sent his e-mail about half an hour before Mr Trump made reckless claims including falsely declaring himself the winner of the election and began calling for election officials to stop counting ballots.
“We want all voting to stop,” Mr Trump said at the White House.
He said, without offering details, that his campaign would “be going to the US Supreme Court” over the election count.
The Trump campaign said later in the day that it was filing lawsuits in multiple states, including Michigan, to halt or protest vote counts.
The election has been both unusual and charged.
A historic number of mail-in ballots, prompted by the pandemic, have slowed the work of local election officials who tally them.
And Mr Trump has for months stoked fears about the integrity of the vote and amplified unfounded conspiracy theories that slow-counting states could not be trusted, intensifying his baseless accusations as the count stretched on past Election Day and his opponent, Mr Joe Biden, gained an edge in key states.
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