Should the FBI investigate Trump’s claims of voter fraud?

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An FBI investigation of whether fraudulent votes were cast in the 2020 election might be the only way to help placate a bitterly divided nation.  

Joe Biden is president and that won’t be overturned. But Donald Trump claims the election was stolen from him by fraud. Trump’s opponents say his fraud allegations are baseless and false. Who is right? Absent a dispassionate investigation, we don’t know for sure.  

What we do know is that this controversy is rending the country. A divided America is the delight of our enemies. President Biden has expressed a proper desire to unify the nation but, like it or not, unification will need to pass through this issue. Whether Trump is right or wrong is beside the point. A large segment of America strongly believes that fraud impacted the election. This may seem unfair to Biden’s supporters, but it is a reality that’s not going away just because they believe it’s not true. 

Right now, political animals are giving us a lesson in how not to overcome doubts about the election and unify the country. They’re continuing a pattern of acrimonious manipulations that we’ve witnessed all year, through the COVID-19 pandemic and a summer of urban riots that have churned Americans in a cauldron of discord reminiscent of the late 1960s. Passions have not been soothed by responsible leadership, but instead inflamed by demagoguery. As a result, violence, that parasite, has erupted in our streets and now in our halls of government

Too often, Trump’s words were offensive, crude and irresponsible, and for that he has no one to blame but himself. Whether his allegations of voter fraud have merit or not, he constructed a tinderbox and instead of, say, forming a bipartisan commission to investigate his concerns, he lit the box at a massive rally and encouraged a march on another branch of government — with disastrous results. 

The words used by Trump’s opponents are no better. We’re witnessing calculated performance anger that wants to quash not just Trump’s future political viability but, by twisted projection, his voters and supporters as well, who are being vigorously painted as advocates of violence, as white supremacists, as people needing reeducation and unworthy of any public voice. This comes across as a cynical ploy to cement greater political power by marginalizing and suppressing a major segment of the country. 

Censorship, that enemy of free people, is being unsheathed against any suggestion of substantial voter fraud. Opposition politicians and many in the news media have asserted in lockstep that Trump’s claims are false, with particular and very public intolerance exhibited by social media and Big Tech. 

Violence and censorship are two sides of the same coin. Both have flared this year. Violence is an effort to intimidate and force acquiescence. When inadequately confronted, it works. Censorship is the tool of those unsure of the righteousness of their position, of its truth. It is the safe space of those holding weak arguments. It is thought violence. Its goal, too, is intimidation and acquiescence. That is why a number of world leaders who were not supporters of Trump — beginning with German Chancellor Angela Merkel — objected to the censoring or shutting down of Trump’s social-media accounts by Facebook, Twitter and other digital platforms as “problematic” and “dangerous.” 

Censorship comes across as panicky. Simply asserting that the fraud allegations are baseless and shutting down any claims to the contrary will not unify the country. It only fortifies suspicion that there is something to hide. Censorship reeks of fear.

The best path — for the good of all of the people, not just a subset of politicians or a political party — is an objective assessment by legal authorities of whether an investigation of possible voter fraud is warranted and, if so, a vigorous pursuit of evidence that either proves or disproves the allegations. Statesmen of any political stripe should eagerly embrace that path. Political animals would howl at it. 

The FBI has primary responsibility for investigating voter fraud. Technically, Trump has laid on the table allegations citing specific statistically anomalous or numerically impossible voting results in several states, along with some signed, sworn affidavits. This has the full attention of millions of his supporters. (Trump’s court challenges focused on voter registration and mail-in ballot procedures. The courts are not equipped to investigate voter fraud.)

Unless there are clear indications that Trump’s allegations are completely fabricated and fraudulent themselves, there would be sufficient predication under the Attorney General Guidelines for the FBI to initiate an investigation. “Donald Trump is evil” is not adequate justification to automatically ignore an allegation.

Many on both sides may question the FBI’s impartiality. Fair enough. That’s the legacy damage left behind by a half-dozen rogue executives who are gone from the bureau. But the FBI remains the most capable investigative entity we have. 

Ahead of November’s election, FBI Director Christopher Wray had appropriate and reassuring words for the nation: “We are not going to tolerate criminal activity that undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” he said. “If we see indications of federal election crimes, we will aggressively investigate.”

So, yes, the FBI should investigate. The suspicions of possible voter fraud need sober, objective evaluation separated from Trump’s misuse of his position and his firebrand rhetoric, as well as his opponents’ rash censorship. Public confidence is at stake. Even if the FBI determines an investigation is not warranted — which it might — it should clearly explain why, so as not to erode further the already shaky confidence of half the electorate. Reasonable people will accept reasonable explanations. 

If, however, allegations of voter fraud go completely unaddressed and censored, the cauldron of bitter division will continue to boil. We risk both parties descending into strategies to cheat future votes in order to remain competitive. An American will have all the confidence of a Venezuelan that voting matters. We no longer will be led; we’ll simply be manipulated.

Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, was an FBI special agent for 24 years and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He independently consults with private companies and public-safety agencies on strategic mission technologies. 

Tags 2020 election results Christopher Wray Donald Trump Electoral fraud FBI Joe Biden Trump election claims

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