Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows claimed that FBI director Christopher Wray was mistaken about the lack of widespread voter fraud ahead of the November US presidential election in testimony to Congress.
“With all due respect to Director Wray, he has a hard time finding emails in his own FBI, let alone figuring out whether there is any kind of voter fraud,” Mr Meadows told CBS in a television interview on Friday morning. “Perhaps he needs to get involved on the ground, and he would change his testimony on Capitol Hill.”
Mr Meadows did not immediately clarify what missing FBI emails he was referencing. However, the Trump administration has expressed displeasure in the past about the FBI’s production of emails and other communications in connection with congressional investigations, including one into the origins of the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mr Trump has repeatedly alleged that the election would be marred by mass voter fraud — a result, he claims, of increased postal voting during the pandemic. This week, the US president drew a bipartisan backlash by refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power when asked if he would accept the results of the election in the event that he lost to Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
On Thursday Mr Trump defended his remarks, saying that he was not sure the election would or could be “honest” and claiming that postal voting was a “whole big scam”.
However, Mr Wray told Congress that the FBI had seen no evidence of widespread voter fraud, despite assertions to the contrary by the president.
“We have not seen, historically, any kind of co-ordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” Mr Wray told the Senate homeland security committee on Thursday.
Election tensions have also been stoked by an unusual statement by the US attorney for the middle district of Pennsylvania, a key swing state.
On Thursday, the US attorney, David Freed, announced that his office and the FBI had found that nine postal ballots from military personnel had been improperly opened by local election staff in Luzerne County.
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He had declared that all were for Mr Trump, before correcting the statement to say seven were for the president and two were unknown. Justice department policy and norms are that prosecutors should generally not disclose ongoing investigations, nor take actions close to an election that could influence the political process.
Later, Mr Freed disclosed a letter to the Luzerne County director of elections in which he indicated that the problem with the ballots may have been a mix-up — postal ballots, and applications for such ballots, come in similar envelopes.
Matthew Miller, former spokesman for the Justice department under Barack Obama, alleged that Mr Freed’s announcement represented “an unprecedented in-kind contribution to the president’s campaign”.
“This is an ongoing investigation where there is no public interest reason to override the usual policy of not commenting — and especially not to say for whom the ballots were cast,” Mr Miller tweeted.