November 5, 2020
In the months leading up to the elections, President Trump made a lot of noise about mail-in ballots leading to voter fraud. Through his false claims, Trump laid the malicious groundwork to question the election results if they didn’t immediately go his way. Now, as states try to tally every vote, the Justice Department says armed agents can be sent to investigate voter fraud — which, again, is exceedingly rare.
Around 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue emailed federal prosecutors regarding the Justice Department’s new stance. Donoghue’s claim that the armed agents can be sent to vote-counting stations comes from an interesting interpretation of a federal law that prohibits stationing armed officers at polls on Election Day.
Per The New York Times, Donoghue wrote that 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.”
A number of state officials and civil rights advocates were quick to point out that Donoghue’s interpretation of the law is questionable at best. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey tweeted, “State officials have authority over anyone trying to enter locations where ballots are being counted. Anything else is a radical interpretation of the law. States can handle elections, and we will ensure the people decide the outcome.”
Vanita Gupta, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, also tweeted about the DOJ’s decision. She denounced it as “scare tactics from DOJ”, writing, “Federal armed agents can’t interfere in vote count, enter polling places, or take ballots. Federal law allows law enforcement officials to ‘copy and inspect,’ but ballots stay in the hands of local election officials.”
It’s not too surprising to see the Trump DOJ trying this, though. As Gupta pointed out in a second tweet, “Let’s be clear: This is posturing. You can imagine Trump calling [Attorney General Bill] Barr at midnight freaking out after Fox called [Arizona] saying, ‘Do something for me,’ and Barr willingly obliging. Time for a new DOJ.”
For months, Barr has followed Trump’s lead in incorrectly claiming that mail-in ballots would lead to voter fraud. He also once referred to a story of 1,700 falsified ballots that The Washington Post later found to be false. The New York Times reported that when asked about the flub, a DOJ spokeswoman blamed an inaccurate memo from an aide.
The timing of Donoghue’s email is quite convenient, too. The Times reported that Donoghue sent his email about half an hour before Trump began falsely claiming that he had won the election. In addition, Trump’s campaign filed lawsuits on Wednesday to stop Michigan and Pennsylvania from counting votes. He also signed a fundraising email that falsely claimed that the election was being stolen by the “Radical Left” and urged his supporters to “fight back.”
As a result, Trump supporters gathered outside of polling stations in cities like Detroit to stop the count. And Trump isn’t acting alone in his tantrums. So far, Republicans have filed at least a dozen lawsuits to muddy up the results of the election, mostly taking aim at mail-in ballots under the false claim that they’re somehow fraudulent.
Right now, it’s unclear if there’s any actual plans to start sending out armed agents or which agencies they would come from. While there would like be a slew of lawsuits and legal challenges if the DOJ actually followed through on Donoghue’s email, it would still disrupt the tallying process — which, in the end, is clearly what Trump wants.