U.S. federal prosecutor announces inquiry into discarded ballots

By Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe | Thu, September 24, 2020 11:07 EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top federal prosecutor in the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Thursday said his office was investigating a small number of military ballots cast for President Donald Trump that had been "discarded."

In a highly unusual public statement, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, David Freed, said his office and the FBI was probing incidents that occurred in Luzerne County, which is located in northeastern Pennsylvania and includes Wilkes-Barre.

Nine military ballots had been "improperly opened" by elections staff and "discarded," Freed said in a letter to a county election official released on Thursday.

Seven of the nine ballots were found outside their official envelopes, Freed said, adding that those ballots were all cast for Trump.

"The majority of the recovered materials were found in an outside dumpster," Freed said.

He called the findings "troubling," but has not yet filed any charges or taken official action.

Freed said his investigation remains active, but he was releasing information now because of "the limited amount of time before the general election and the vital public importance of these issues."

The Nov. 3 election is less than six weeks away.

Some former Justice Department officials criticized Freed's announcement, saying there was no legitimate reason to disclose that the ballots were marked for Trump.

"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."

The announcement has added fuel to Trump's efforts to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the upcoming election. He has often asserted, without evidence, that widespread mail-in voting will lead to fraud. Democrats, meanwhile, have encouraged voting by mail so that Americans can safely vote during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We want to make sure the election is honest and I'm not sure that it can be," Trump said at the White House on Thursday. "I don't know that it can be with this whole situation, unsolicited ballots."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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