The two-hour recording shows that Richard Hopkins recanted claims he had made in a sworn affidavit that top Republicans cited over the weekend as potential evidence of widespread election irregularities and fraud.
Hopkins told federal investigators on Monday his allegations were based on fragments of conversation among co-workers in a noisy mail facility in Erie, Pa., according to the recording.
When an agent from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General asked Hopkins if he stood by his sworn statement that a supervisor “was backdating ballots” mailed after Election Day, Hopkins answered: “At this point? No.”
He also agreed to sign a revised statement that undercut his earlier affidavit.
Those previous allegations had prompted Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) to call for the Justice Department to investigate. The Trump campaign also cited them in a lawsuit seeking to delay the certification of election results in Pennsylvania, part of a broad effort to challenge the presidential election results.
Hopkins did not respond to messages seeking comment on Wednesday.
Hopkins surreptitiously recorded the interview on Monday, then revealed to the agents that he had done so at the end of the session, according to the recording. Project Veritas, an organization that initially aired Hopkins’s claims last week, released the recording on Wednesday, claiming that it showed he was coerced and pressured into signing a “watered down statement drafted by them using their words.”
The conservative nonprofit group has sought to bolster unproven allegations of widespread voter fraud, offering a $25,000 reward for evidence of election improprieties in Pennsylvania in recent days and promoting fundraising efforts for Hopkins.
On Tuesday, following a story in The Washington Post that quoted officials as saying Hopkins had recanted his earlier claims, Hopkins said in a YouTube video that he had not done so, and that the recording of the interview would show as much.
During the recorded interview, however, federal agents repeatedly reminded Hopkins that his cooperation was voluntary, 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 witnessed, according to the recording.
He told agents the affidavit was written by Project Veritas.
He said he was not fully aware of its contents because he was in “so much shock I wasn’t paying that much attention to what they were telling me.”
A spokesman for the group said in a statement emailed to The Post that the “affidavit was drafted with Mr. Hopkins’ input and requested revisions.”
The recording released by Project Veritas, an organization that uses deceptive tactics to expose what it says is liberal bias and corruption in the mainstream media and government, did not cover the entire interview, and it is unclear what occurred during the portions that were not included. The group, which had described the interview as a three-hour interrogation, said in the statement that a portion of the interview was not recorded.
In a video published Wednesday, Hopkins, 32, said in an interview with Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe that he felt like he “got played” by the federal agents. He said he was suspended without pay shortly after his interview with them on Monday, pending the completion of the investigation.
Graham’s office, the Justice Department and the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The initial affidavit Hopkins signed asserted that he had heard the mail facility’s postmaster tell a colleague on Nov. 5 that the postmaster was “backdating the postmarks on the ballots to make it appear as though the ballots had been collected” on Election Day instead of the day after.
In the interview with federal agents, though, Hopkins said he overheard only a few portions of a conversation between the postmaster and another worker. The two were standing at a distance that made it difficult to hear the full conversation, but Hopkins said he could make out three phrases: “ballots on the 4th,” “all for the 3rd,” and “one postmarked on the 4th.”
“My mind probably added the rest,” he told the investigators, before acknowledging that he never heard anyone use the word “backdate.”
The postmaster, Rob Weisenbach, has called Hopkins’ allegations “100% false.”
Hopkins told investigators that the affidavit was “written up” by lawyers for Project Veritas. “They just wanted me to get the affidavit done so they can utilize it in case they need to subpoena me into the court,” he said.
Under questioning by the agents, Hopkins agreed to sign the revised affidavit, which replaced many of his factual assertions with statements couched as his “assumptions” or “impressions,” according to the recording.
Federal investigators have not released the revised statement that Hopkins agreed to sign, but the agents described it in detail on the recording.
Hopkins, a self-described libertarian who said he voted for President Trump, explained, in part, why he was suspicious of his bosses. He said postal workers were instructed to continue to pick up ballots mailed after Election Day, a practice that is routine and does not mean that those ballots would be deemed valid by election officials.
“It’s so weird that we’re picking up ballots because, at this point [after Election Day], they’re no longer valid,” he told investigators.
In Pennsylvania, mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Election Day are considered valid if they are received within three days of the election.
Hopkins told investigators that he collected one ballot on his route on Nov. 5, and secretly wrote the date on the back of it in case a supervisor backdated the appropriate postmark. He said he had no direct knowledge of any directive to backdate ballots, nor did he witness anyone manipulate a ballot.
Hopkins insisted that he made the allegations in good faith because he believed a federal investigation into voter fraud was warranted.
“You ever feel like you were doing the right thing but you kind of regret it anyways?” he asked the agent.