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Despite White House Statement, Trump Casts Doubt On Election Again


President Trump spent part of yesterday promoting his narrative of an unfair election, and the Justice Department backed him up in a way that one expert calls improper. Now, there was a small incident in one state, and to be clear, we don't know all the facts. We do know the president has been constantly questioning the integrity of the election. And we do know that polls consistently show the president trailing Joe Biden badly. Citing no evidence, the president has promoted ideas about fraudulent mail-in ballots, which have been used safely for years. But yesterday on Fox Radio, the president finally said he had something - a few ballots in Pennsylvania appeared to have been thrown away.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And they were Trump ballots - eight ballots - in an office yesterday in a certain state. And they were - they had Trump written on it, and they were thrown in a garbage can. And this is what's going to happen.

INSKEEP: Now, eight is the wrong number. There are other things there which we will discuss. A U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania, though - after the president's statement, a U.S. attorney appointed by the president took the unusual step of releasing partial results of an FBI investigation. And that information seemed to support the president's narrative.

NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here. Franco, good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So what are the ballots at the heart of this investigation?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, what investigators are doing is they're looking into some military ballots that were already cast. And it does appear that something did happen and that nine ballots were improperly opened by county election staff. Seven of those that were allegedly thrown out were cast for President Trump. Now, the local election staff have told investigators they were opened by mistake because they were in these envelopes that look a lot like other envelopes that need to be opened quickly. But again, as you noted, there are still a lot of unanswered questions, and no action has been taken yet.

INSKEEP: OK. So what would the connection be between these nine ballots and the larger election issues?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the president says this could be happening at thousands of places, you know. And it's a fear that, though, is not really substantiated. We've reported before that experts see little evidence of meaningful fraud due to mail-in voting. But this is a case that feeds into Trump's larger argument that mail-in voting cannot be trusted.


TRUMP: We want to make sure the election is honest, and I'm not sure that it can be. I don't - I don't know that it can be with this whole situation, unsolicited ballots.

ORDOÑEZ: And as you know, this is a year when we're expecting record mail-in voting because of the coronavirus. The Trump campaign jumped right on this, saying it was an example of Democrats trying to steal the election. But FBI Director Christopher Wray testified about this at the Senate hearing yesterday. And he emphasized that historically we have not seen any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, you know, like the president alleges.

INSKEEP: OK. So the president goes on Fox News. He talks about this small incident in Pennsylvania. And then there's a statement from David J. Freed, one of the United States attorneys in Pennsylvania appointed by President Trump. He makes this statement of a partial finding of fact. How unusual is that?

ORDOÑEZ: It's very unusual. You know, as we've noted, the investigation is just beginning. My colleague, Carrie Johnson, interviewed Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He said it was improper to announce partial facts and potential issues. And he said it was grotesquely improper to announce whom the ballots were cast for since, really, that shouldn't matter in the investigation. The other issue is this is a small number of ballots. David Thornburgh heads a watchdog group called Committee of Seventy. He told Katie Meyer of NPR member station WHYY in Philadelphia that he's concerned voters might conclude the situation is much worse than it is.

INSKEEP: Franco, thanks for the update.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.