White House chief of staff Mark Meadows publicly attacked FBI Director Christopher Wray on Friday, a day after the director said there was no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud that have been pushed by President Donald Trump.
The rebuke by the president’s top aide of the leader of the nation’s premier law enforcement agency represents the latest escalation of the White House’s efforts to sow doubt about the outcome of the November election.
In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” Meadows was pressed on Wray’s testimony before a Senate committee on Thursday, during which the FBI director said bureau officials “have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”
Meadows rejected that finding on Friday, saying: “With all due respect to Director Wray, he has a hard time finding emails in his own FBI, let alone figuring out whether there’s any kind of voter fraud.”
Meadows’ criticism comes after the Justice Department announced on Thursday that it had begun an inquiry into nine military ballots in a northeastern Pennsylvania county that were found “discarded.” The department said seven of the ballots had been cast for Trump after initially saying all nine were in support of the president, and officials did not allege any particular crime or wrongdoing.
The unusual nature of the department's announcement and the timing of the new probe provoked immediate suspicion among election experts and lawyers, and contributed to concerns that Attorney General William Barr is acting to benefit Trump politically with fewer than 40 days to go until Election Day.
Meadows suggested on Friday that Wray should “drill down on” the Pennsylvania ballot inquiry and personally intervene in other voter fraud cases. “Perhaps he needs to get involved on the ground, and then he would change his testimony on Capitol Hill,” Meadows said.
In remarks to reporters later Friday morning, Meadows declined to explicitly say whether Trump still had confidence in the FBI director. “We have a number of people that continue to serve at the pleasure of the president that he has differing degrees of confidence in,” he said.
Trump, who tapped Wray to become FBI director in 2017, has repeatedly scolded the bureau chief in recent years, most notably on matters related to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
After Wray testified before Congress last week about “very active efforts” by Russia to interfere in the 2020 election and damage Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Trump admonished Wray on Twitter and urged him to investigate voter fraud.
“But Chris, you don’t see any activity from China, even though it is a FAR greater threat than Russia, Russia, Russia,” Trump wrote. “They will both, plus others, be able to interfere in our 2020 Election with our totally vulnerable Unsolicited (Counterfeit?) Ballot Scam. Check it out!”
Trump has warned that Democrats are sending millions of “unsolicited” ballots to Americans, alleging that the vote-by-mail system will result in historic levels of voter fraud and throw doubt on the result of the election. But cases of election fraud in the United States are exceedingly rare, and there is no proof of the type of mass fraud Trump has alleged.
Experts acknowledge there are some slightly higher fraud risks associated with mail-in voting compared with in-person voting, but only when proper security measures are not in place. A recent study found that voting by mail does not benefit one party over another.
Only nine states are automatically mailing all voters ballots this year, regardless of whether they requested one or not. Five of those states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — regularly mail every voter a ballot.
Four states — California, Nevada, New Jersey and Vermont — are doing so because of the pandemic, as is Washington, D.C. Montana also has given counties the option to do so, and most of them have taken advantage of it.
Trump declined on Wednesday to say whether he would commit to a peaceful transition of power after the election, citing his complaints about mail-in voting. Wray has previously described misinformation about election integrity as his top concern ahead of Nov. 3.