The Justice Department has greenlighted the use of armed agents to investigate potential voter fraud at ballot-counting centers despite a U.S. law barring the presence of federal officers on Election Day.
Officials at the agency, led by Trump administration appointee Bill Barr, told federal prosecutors in an email that the law only applies to Nov. 3, not the days afterward, the New York Times reported. Barr, the U.S. attorney general, has been a loyalist to President Trump, who has complained since Tuesday that Democratic officials at state and local levels are trying to steal the election.
The statute “does not prevent armed federal law enforcement persons from responding to, investigate, or prevent federal crimes at closed polling places or at other locations where votes are being counted,” the official, Richard P. Donoghue, told prosecutors in an email that he sent around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the Times.
In July, Barr appointed Donoghue, who previously served as U.S. attorney for Brooklyn, N.Y., to his current role.
His notice comes two days after Election Day, at a time when some states -- including key battlegrounds such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and North Carolina -- have still not finished tallying votes.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign, however, has expressed confidence he will win enough Electoral College votes to top the threshold of 270 needed for the White House.
Meanwhile, as Trump's lead in battleground areas has started to slip away with the tallying of absentee ballots, his campaign has protested the counting of votes after Election Day, which some states allow.
The possible presence of federal agents leaves some Trump critics even more concerned that his Justice Department is using intimidation tactics to exacerbate an already tense election in which vote tabulations indicate razor-thin margins between the two candidates.
Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California Irvine School of Law, told Time Magazine that “the timing is quite curious, especially given earlier concerns about the politicization of the Justice Department to aid in any effort by the Trump campaign to try to contest the vote.”
Barr has come under fire in the months leading up to the election after echoing Trump's claims that mail-in ballots -- widely used, particularly by Democrats, after the coronavirus pandemic made personal contact riskier -- would be rife with fraud.