The United States Department of Justice says a small number of mail-in ballots cast by members of the military for President Donald Trump were thrown away in Pennsylvania.
A federal investigation into reported problems with a handful of mail-in ballots received by the Luzerne County Board of Elections began Monday at the request of District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis. A statement from the U.S. attorney in charge of the investigation released Thursday announces that physical evidence was uncovered that some ballots were discarded.
"Since Monday, FBI personnel working together with the Pennsylvania State Police have conducted numerous interviews and recovered and reviewed certain physical evidence. Election officials in Luzerne County have been cooperative," the statement from U.S. Attorney David Freed reads.
"At this point we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded," Freed said.
Investigators said nine discarded ballots were discovered, and seven cast for President Trump.
"Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot," Freed said. "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 investigation remains ongoing.
"It is the vital duty of government to ensure that every properly cast vote is counted," Freed said.
Trump has frequently criticized mail-in voting, arguing states are not equipped to handle large volumes of mail-in votes and suggesting that widespread fraud and a "rigged" election would occur if states adopt universal mail-in voting.
"Mail ballots, they cheat," Trump said in August. "Mail ballots are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters. They go collect them. They are fraudulent in many cases. They have to vote. They should have voter ID, by the way."
Don’t allow RIGGED ELECTIONS! https://t.co/DeZ5B3TEv5— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1588376180.0
Most recently, the president has not said he would commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election, suggesting his loss would be the result of fraudulent ballots.
"We're going to have to see what happens. You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster," Trump said. "Get rid of the ballots, and you'll have a very peaceful — there won't be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation."
After a media firestorm and several Republicans implicitly condemned Trump's comments, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany clarified Trump's remarks during a news conference Thursday, saying he would accept the results of a "free and fair election."
"The president will accept the result of a free and fair election," McEnany said. "He will accept the will of the American people."
She defended his criticisms of mail-in ballots.
"To move the entire country to mass mail-in voting all at once and have an entirely new system, and do that in just a few short months is an untenable and unworkable proposition," McEnany said. "And one that is shown to not work well at all."
McEnany promised reporters she would provide proof that mail-in ballots for President Trump were discarded in Pennsylvania, presumably referring to the U.S. Attorney Freed's statement released later that day.
Attorney General William Barr has also been a forceful critic of universal mail ballots.
"This is playing with fire. We're a very closely divided country here. And people have to have confidence in the results of the election and the legitimacy of the government, and people trying to change the rules to this, to this methodology which, as a matter of logic is very open to fraud and coercion, is reckless and dangerous and people are playing with fire," Barr said on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" on Sept. 2.
Critics of the president and his administration say studies have shown that voter fraud is extremely rare and that previous attempts by the administration to show evidence of widespread fraud failed to do so.
However, there are examples of voter fraud conducted on a larger scale in the United States. In June, charges were filed against four New Jersey men, including two Paterson City officials, for allegedly engaging in voter fraud with mail-in ballots. More than 3,000 ballots in a Paterson City Council election were reportedly set aside over fraud concerns, with over 800 being invalidated. One incumbent councilman won reelection by just eight votes.