The Justice Department is probing suspicious election activity in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, where state officials have already determined there was enough evidence of fraud to order a new election.
The Justice Department issued subpoenas to state election officials, a former Republican congressional candidate and a political operative earlier this month.
In a March 6 grand jury subpoena, the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section informed the North Carolina Board of Elections it was conducting a criminal investigation in the Eastern District of North Carolina, where the 9th district is located. It asked the board to produce “all documents related to the investigation of election irregularities affecting counties within the 9th congressional district.” It also asks the board to appear before a grand jury in Raleigh on April 16 to 18.
The subpoena comes weeks after the state board unanimously ruled there was enough evidence of election fraud to hold a new election. Republican Mark Harris appeared to have won the 2018 race, but the state board presented evidence last month that he employed an operative, McCrae Dowless, who illegally collected absentee ballots from voters. Harris’ campaign and Dowless both also received federal subpoenas, WBTV reported Monday.
The federal probe comes after Dowless and four others have already been indicted on state criminal charges related to activities in the 2016 and 2018 election.
David Freedman, a lawyer representing Harris, said in an email both Harris and the Harris campaign committee received subpoenas from the Justice Department to produce documents. A woman who answered the phone at the office of Cynthia Singletary, Dowless’ lawyer, said “we have no comment.” The Justice Department also declined to comment.
The attorneys listed on the subpoena were both trial attorneys in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C. It is unclear if Robert Higdon, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, is involved in the matter.
“The work of federal grand juries are governed by Federal Secrecy Laws and we are not able to comment on them,” Don Connelly, a Higdon spokesman, said in an email.
Mark Harris’ son, John, is an assistant U.S. attorney in Higdon’s office. During the board of election’s public hearing, the younger Harris, 29, testified that he warned his father about hiring Dowless and told him what Dowless was doing was likely illegal.
The state board of elections gathered evidence Dowless was illegally collecting absentee ballots after the 2016 election and passed them on to federal and state prosecutors in early 2017. Both failed to bring charges ahead of the 2018 election.
“We support the efforts of state and federal authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes against the elections process,” Kim Westbrook Strach, the executive director of the North Carolina Board of Elections, said in a statement. “We hope that prosecutions in these cases will help restore voters’ confidence in our elections and serve as a strong deterrent to future elections fraud.”