Prosecutor won’t file charges against Harris in NC-9 probe

Updated: Jul. 15, 2020 at 9:04 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced on Wednesday that she would not file charges against former Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris as part of her probe of the 9th Congressional District scandal.

Freeman is leading the state investigation into the scandal, which has already led to two different indictments against McCrae Dowless, a political operative who worked for Harris in the 2018 election.

Dowless is charged with crimes related to election fraud, including illegally possessing absentee ballots.

Others who worked for Dowless also face charges related to election fraud. All have pleaded not guilty.

Allegations of election fraud—mainly centered around absentee ballot harvesting—prompted the North Carolina State Board of Elections to not certify the 2018 election in NC-9, in which Harris was declared the winner of Democratic challenger Dan McCready.

The NCSBE held a four-day hearing to determine whether to call a new election in late January 2019 that ended with Mark Harris calling for a new election from the witness stand.

That prompted a special election, which Republican Dan Bishop won over McCready in September 2019. Harris did not run in the special election.

Freeman cited Harris’ call for a new election and decision to not run in the special election as “important steps in restoring the confidence of the voters in District 9.”

In her release, Freeman said her decision to note charge Harris followed more than a year of investigation from state and federal authorities.

“Our office has concluded that there is not evidence which would support a criminal case against Dr. Harris,” she said.

Full Coverage: NC-9 election scandal

The release said Freeman and investigators “continue probing other areas of evidence.”

A series of WBTV investigations has uncovered evidence that people paid by the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC, a group supporting McCready and other Democratic candidates in the 2018 election, also ran an absentee ballot operation similar to Dowless'.

No one associated with the BCIAP has been charged with a crime, although the group was also mentioned in a 2016 criminal referral from the NCSBE to federal prosecutors.

Records lawsuit continues

Records related to the NCSBE investigation remain the subject of a lawsuit brought by WBTV against UNC-Pembroke and, specifically, the records of Josh Malolm.

Malcolm was the vice chairman of the NCSBE when he made the motion at a November 27 board meeting to not certify the NC-9 race.

Joshua Malcolm speaks at a meeting of the North Carolina State Board of Elections meeting.
Joshua Malcolm speaks at a meeting of the North Carolina State Board of Elections meeting.(WBTV)

WBTV requested Malcolm’s phone records, emails, calendar entries and other communication records from UNC-P, where Malcolm was employed, in January 2019. No records were produced in response to the request until November 2019, after the lawsuit was filed.

Even then, the university withheld a number of records at the request of the NCSBE, which has not asserted a legal justification for their ability to block the release of the records.

Malcolm abruptly left UNC-P in October 2019.

University officials have refused to provide details of what happened to Malcolm’s university-issued cell phone—the only phone he used for personal and business purposes—despite multiple requests from WBTV and the station’s lawyers as part of the lawsuit. It is not clear whether text messages Malcolm sent and received using the phone can be recovered.

Phone records produced as part of the lawsuit show Malcolm, a Democrat who lives in Robeson County, which is part of NC-9, had regular contact with McCready in September and November 2018.

Previous: Records show NCSBE Chair had frequent contact with figure in NC-09 investigation during ’18 election

According to the phone records, McCready and Malcolm exchanged text messages in mid-December and Malcolm sent McCready two text messages on November 25, two days before he made the motion to not certify the election.

The records also show the pair talked by phone three times on November 9, 2019; once on November 10 and again on November 18.

A judge denied two requests from lawyers for UNC-P and the UNC system to throw the lawsuit out in March.

He also ordered an independent examiner to review more than 100 pages of records withheld by the state. Lawyers for UNC-P have challenged the judge’s authority to order such a review and have asked the case be put on hold, which could further delay proceedings if granted.

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