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DOJ delays subpoenas on voting data until ‘well after’ election

September 6th, 2018

— The U.S. Attorney’s Office has agreed to delay subpoenas seeking massive amounts of voter data from the state and 44 North Carolina counties.

In a letter dated Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich said the concerns election officials expressed about being able to prepare for the November elections while also digging up some 20 million subpoenaed documents did not fall on deaf ears.

“We understand and appreciate that concern and want to do nothing to impede those preparations or to affect participation in or the outcome of those elections,” the letter states. “As such, provided the Board of Elections is willing to agree to the preservation of the subpoenaed documents … we are willing to extend the deadline for compliance until well after the upcoming election cycle is completed and the elected officials take office.”

This breaking news story will be updated. A previous version of the story follows …

A pair of North Carolina congressmen called Thursday on the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to abandon subpoenas seeking millions of voting records in the state and said they will call for investigations into the “legality and motivations” of the DOJ’s demand.

Democratic 4th District Congressman David Price and 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield said the subpoenas sent out late last week by U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon’s office, seem “clearly designed to disenfranchise and intimidate voters and to disrupt the administration of an impending election with major state and national implications.”

They said they’ll ask the inspectors general for the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security, which houses ICE, to probe the issue. They’ll also seek committee hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives, they said.

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger put out a statement on the matter as well Thursday, responding to WRAL News questions.

“While I fully support appropriate investigation into voter fraud, ICE must also remember we are just 60 days from the next election,” the 9th District Republican who lost his primary earlier this year said via email. “Proper preparation for the next election is just as vital as investigating potential fraud. ICE should have a very compelling and justifiable reason to subpoena election records at this time, or should wait until after November 6th.”

State elections officials have said the subpoenas cover some 20 million documents, including more than 2 million ballots that could be used to determine whom individual people voted for.

They’ve also said the massive request, and a Sept. 25 deadline to produce records to a federal grand jury in Wilmington, will make it difficult to prepare for the Nov. 6 election, particularly in rural counties with fewer employees.

WRAL News has reached out to North Carolina’s congressional delegation. So far most have not responded. Spokespeople for U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee that has oversight for DOJ and ICE, declined comment, saying the senators don’t discuss open DOJ investigations.

U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican who had Higdon’s job in the Eastern District before running for Congress, said in a statement that investigators need time to do their jobs.

“As a former federal prosecutor, I know voter fraud is a crime, and when a U.S. Attorney has evidence people voted illegally, or that people who are not U.S. Citizens voted, he has a duty to investigate to defend the sanctity of the ballot box,” Holding said in an emailed statement. “Rather than turning this investigation into voter fraud into another political circus, egged on by activist political groups, the media should take a deep breath and allow the U.S. Attorney to determine whether crimes were committed.”

The subpoenas seek documents from the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement and from the 44 counties that make up the Eastern District of North Carolina, Higdon’s territory in the Department of Justice. The state board has an emergency meeting Friday, and elections officials could ask a judge to block the subpoena.

Allison Riggs, attorney for the Social Coalition for Social Justice, which has been vocally opposed to thes subpoenas, said her group plans to file a memo with the state board Thursday afternoon urging them to do so.

Higdon and others tied to the grand jury investigation have declined to say why they want the records, which is typical of federal investigations, which usually proceed in secret. Some of the same investigators named on the subpoenas, including a special agent with ICE, were involved in a case that charged 19 people last month with voting despite not being U.S. citizens.

Whether a person voted or not in North Carolina is a public record. Whom they voted for is not. It’s unclear why this deeper dive, pulling ballots cast, voter registration records and absentee ballot applications, would be needed.

Former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina Walter C. Holton, now in private practice in Winston-Salem, said not to read anything into investigators’ silence. Higdon is “really not at liberty to say anything or even confirm or deny the existence of an investigation,” Holton said.

But Holton also said the subpoenas are disturbingly broad. It appears the Department of Justice is trying to back up accusations of voter fraud, Holton said, but having a grand jury involved “leads me to believe that there has to be more meat on the bones than just that,” Holton said.

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