Attorney General William Barr personally briefed President Donald Trump on a probe into what the Justice Department is calling “reports of potential issues with a small number of mail-in ballots” in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, a DOJ official told ABC News on Friday.
That information comes a day after the Justice Department took the unusual step of revealing details about an ongoing investigation, which White House critics decried as an attempt to bolster Trump’s repeated and largely baseless claims that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud.
The DOJ did so after Trump began discussing it during an interview with Fox News Radio.
“They were Trump ballots ... and they were thrown in a garbage can. This is what’s going to happen,” Trump said in the interview. “This is what’s going to happen, and we’re investigating that.”
Later that day, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania shared more details, saying there were nine discarded ballots for Trump. The office later corrected the statement to say only seven of the votes were for the president, raising questions among election experts about the details of the situation and the way they were announced.
“At this point, we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded,” a statement from the office said. “Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time. Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot. Of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, 7 were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown.”
The Justice Department also sent a letter to Luzerne County Bureau of Elections director Shelby Watchilla saying the staff appeared to be at fault.
“The preliminary findings of this inquiry are troubling and the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections must comply with all applicable state and federal election laws and guidance to ensure that all votes—regardless of party—are counted to ensure an accurate election count,” the letter read.
Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri released a statement later Friday saying a “temporary seasonal independent contractor” who started Sept. 14 was the employee who threw out the ballots. The person was fired thereafter.
After discovering what happened, the FBI and other authorities sorted through all the trash from the days that employee was in service in order to retrieve the ballots. Both county- and state-level authorities are providing “supplemental extensive training” to everyone working in the Luzerne elections department, Pedri said.