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There's No Evidence Supporting Trump's Mail Ballot Warnings, FBI Says

President Trump arrives at the Rose Garden of the White House during the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.
Michael Reynolds
Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Trump arrives at the Rose Garden of the White House during the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.

The FBI says it has no evidence of any coordinated fraud schemes related to voting by mail this year, undercutting repeated claims by President Trump and his camp about what they've called security problems.

That disclosure was made in an election security briefing for reporters on Wednesday by high-ranking officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Normally, such a statement would not be notable, since election officials and experts have long said there is no widespread fraud issue in American elections.

But Trump, supporters and aides including Attorney General William Barr have cast doubt on the security of mail ballots as it has become clear that more than half the country may use them to vote this election season because of the coronavirus disaster.

Trump and Barr have said they think foreign countries could attempt to counterfeit ballots and send them in to interfere with counting and that mail voting expansions will be "ripe with fraud" and a way for Democrats to "steal the election from the Republicans."

But national security officials rejected those theories in the Wednesday briefing, saying they have not seen a coordinated fraud effort and noting how difficult such an effort would be, considering the decentralized nature of U.S. elections.

The national security officials briefed the media on the condition they not be identified.

State and local elections officials also have affirmed the level of difficulty required with such a scheme, saying often that bad information around the use of mailed ballots is more of an issue than fraud.

When asked directly about Trump's claims around foreign countries' forging or counterfeiting ballots, an FBI official said Wednesday that the agency has "no information about any nation state" engaging in any effort to undermine any aspect of mail voting.

Intelligence officials did continue to warn, however, that a number of foreign countries, including Russia, China and Iran, continue to engage in overt and covert influence operations aimed at the 2020 presidential race.

Although the mail-in ballot interference thesis isn't supported by evidence, national security officials say, the foreign governments are attempting to sow chaos among American voters — but by launching cyberattacks and taking other actions aimed at interceding in this year's election.

The degrees of danger posed by those actors is debated; Democrats, for example, argue that the intelligence community is abetting Trump's desire to muddy the waters by creating a false equivalence in associating lesser efforts by China and Iran with what they argue are the much more serious ones by Russia.

A former top U.S. spymaster, Sue Gordon, told NPR that she would put the Russians "first on the list."

The federal officials also were set to convene a classified threat landscape briefing for election officials on Wednesday afternoon.

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Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.