Attorney General Bill Barr personally briefed President Donald Trump on the military ballots found in a dumpster in Luzerne, Pennsylvania, setting off a chain reaction that culminated with the widely-criticized public comments on the case from the local U.S. Attorney’s office, according to an ABC News report.
Barr reportedly found out about the situation when the U.S. Attorney’s Office turned to Main Justice for help fielding media requests from local Pennsylvania news outlets.
The new link in the story explains how Trump knew about the “Trump ballots” in a “garbage can” he referenced during a Thursday interview on Fox News host Brian Kilmeade’s radio show.
Shortly after the interview, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany teased the information during a press briefing.
“And also, I can confirm for you that Trump ballots — ballots for the President were found in Pennsylvania,” she said in response to a question about Trump’s refusal to promise a smooth transfer of power. “And I believe you should be getting more information on that shortly. Here, in the last 24 hours, they were found cast aside.”
U.S. Attorney David Freed then issued a press release unveiling that an investigation was ongoing, and including jarringly specific details like that all nine ballots were cast for Trump. The DOJ later had to issue another press release clarifying that only seven of the ballots were known to be cast for him.
Experts and DOJ alum were up in arms over the press release, bewildered as to why he felt compelled to release such a sketchy and selective account so early in the investigation.
In a subsequent letter, Freed provided additional information that suggested that the ballot mishandling may have been a mistake, and not the malicious election tampering immediately claimed by the Trump camp.
“It was explained to investigators the envelopes used for official overseas, military, absentee and mail-in ballot requests are so similar, that the staff believed that adhering to the protocol of preserving envelopes unopened would cause them to miss such ballot requests,” he wrote.
Still, he maintained a sinister tone, calling the preliminary findings “troubling” without detailing any possible crimes or foul play.
Much is still unknown about the situation, including the nature of the nine ballots found by Luzerne County Elections Director Shelby Watchilla in the dumpster last week. Due to a protracted court fight over the Green Party candidate, ballots are still being finalized in some counties in Pennsylvania, making it unlikely that absentee ballots could have already been mailed out and sent back.
There are some special provisions surrounding military voting, including Federal Write-In Absentee Ballots, that members of the military can send in if there isn’t time to receive and return an official absentee ballot. It’s unclear if that type of ballot is in play in the Luzerne County situation.