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Postal Service finds no evidence of mail ballot fraud in Pa. case cited by top Republicans

Letter carrier Richard Hopkins told federal agents he “assumed” supervisors discussed backdating ballots and then recanted his claim, inspector general’s report says

Absentee ballots are prepared for mailing last year in Davenport, Iowa. (Daniel Acker for The Washington Post)

U.S. Postal Service investigators found no evidence to support a Pennsylvania postal worker’s claim that his supervisors had tampered with mail-in ballots, according to an inspector general’s report — allegations cited by top Republicans to press baseless claims of fraud in the presidential election.

Richard Hopkins, a mail carrier in Erie, alleged in November that he overheard the local postmaster discussing plans to backdate ballots received after the Nov. 3 vote and pass them off to election officials as legitimate. Working with Project Veritas, a nonprofit entity that seeks to expose what it says is bias in the mainstream news media, Hopkins publicly released a sworn affidavit recounting those allegations.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) cited Hopkins’s claim in a letter to the Justice Department in November calling for a federal investigation into election results in Pennsylvania, where Joe Biden beat President Donald Trump by more than 81,000 votes, and Democratic candidates outperformed GOP challengers in votes submitted by mail.

Graham and many other congressional Republicans refused to accept the outcome of the election for weeks, even after states audited and certified results.

Then-Attorney General William P. Barr subsequently authorized federal prosecutors to open investigations into credible allegations of voting irregularities and fraud before results were certified, a reversal of long-standing Justice Department policy.

Postal worker recanted allegations of ballot tampering, officials say

But Hopkins soon recanted, officials from the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General told members of Congress on Nov. 10, and the new investigation confirmed. In an interview with federal agents, Hopkins “revised his initial claims, eventually stating that he had not heard a conversation about ballots at all — rather he saw the Postmaster and Supervisor having a discussion and assumed it was about fraudulent ballot backdating,” the report states.

Hopkins “acknowledged that he had no evidence of any backdated presidential ballots and could not recall any specific words said by the postmaster or supervisor,” according to the report, which was published by the inspector general’s office in late February and posted Monday to the blog 21st Century Postal Worker.

The Erie postmaster, Rob Weisenbach, called the allegations “100% false” in a Facebook post in November and said they were made “by an employee that was recently disciplined multiple times.”

“The Erie Post Office did not back date any ballots,” Weisenbach wrote.

Hopkins’s name is redacted in the investigative report, but the document refers extensively to his claim and involvement with Project Veritas and the group’s founder, James O’Keefe.

Read the report: USPS inspector general finds no evidence of claims of ballot fraud

Hopkins has been suspended without pay since Nov. 10, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential personnel matters. A disciplinary letter to Hopkins from a Postal Service supervisor states that Hopkins’s “actions may have placed employees and yourself as well as the reputation of the U.S. Postal Service in harm’s way,” the person said.

In a statement through Project Veritas, Hopkins called the investigative report “vague and deceptive” and said it “underscores the importance of recording conversations. I wish I hadn’t stopped recording.”

Representatives from Graham’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Agents of the inspector general visited the Erie County Courthouse to interview election officials and review ballots processed at the local post office. “Both the interview of the Erie County Election Supervisor and the physical examination of ballots produced no evidence of any backdated presidential election ballots at the Erie, PA Post Office,” the report states.

On Nov. 11, Project Veritas published a two-hour recording of Hopkins’s interview with investigators. Hopkins in that recording said he made “assumptions” based on overheard snippets of conversation and said he never heard his supervisors utter the word “backdate.”

Hopkins and Project Veritas asserted that agents pressured the postal worker into backtracking. O’Keefe, in a statement on Wednesday, said agents “coerced and twisted Hopkins to water down his allegations.” The claims, however, are not supported by their recording. Hopkins did not respond directly to requests from The Washington Post for comment.

Audio recording shows Pa. postal worker recanting ballot-tampering claim

Federal agents repeatedly reminded Hopkins that his cooperation was voluntary, the recording shows, and Hopkins agreed to sign a document stating that he was not coerced.

Asked by an agent whether he had legal representation, Hopkins said Project Veritas had a lawyer on retainer “in case there’s anything that happens.” The agent told Hopkins that if he had a personal lawyer, “I would make whatever efforts possible to have that person here.” Hopkins said he didn’t have a lawyer.

Hopkins also repeatedly expressed regret for signing the initial affidavit because it overstated what he knew and had witnessed, according to the recording.

He told agents the affidavit was written by Project Veritas. In an emailed statement to The Post in November, a spokesman for the group said that the “affidavit was drafted with Mr. Hopkins’ input and requested revisions.”

Project Veritas and far-right activist groups have continued to hold up Hopkins’s disproved allegations and those of other postal workers to support claims of ballot fraud among mail service employees, though no evidence has surfaced to validate those assertions.

Trump amplified fraud claims on his now-suspended Twitter account and called Hopkins “a brave patriot” in a Nov. 10 tweet. He spent the next several weeks filing dozens of lawsuits — losing all but one — to overturn the election results. Trump and other speakers at the Jan. 6 “Save America Rally” in Washington repeated false claims about mail ballot fraud.

Soon after that speech, Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol. Five people were killed, including Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick.

Hopkins has raised more than $236,000 on GiveSendGo, a Christian online fundraising platform, in a campaign that falsely describes the nature of his claim. His crowdfunding page says donations would be used to support him and his family while he is on unpaid leave.

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O’Keefe in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February brought Hopkins onstage, along with former employees of Google, Facebook, CNN and Pinterest who have collaborated with Project Veritas, to a standing ovation and chants of “USA!” from attendees.

“I just couldn’t let it happen the way it was going down. It bothered me,” Hopkins said, at times overcome by emotion. “It at least needed to be known. Whether people believe me or not, I wanted you to know. And now you know.”

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