The fourth day of hearings into charges that Republican Mark Harris benefitted from an illegal absentee ballot scheme in last year’s race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District began with an explosion, as members of the state Board of Elections reacted angrily upon learning that the Harris campaign had failed to produce key documents that investigators subpoenaed last year.
Minutes before yesterday’s stunning proceedings, in which federal prosecutor John Harris—the son of Mark Harris—testified that he’d warned his father against hiring McCrae Dowless, the man at the center of the ballot operation, the Harris campaign produced an additional 800 pages of previously unseen documents.
The most astonishing was a message from Mark Harris to former Judge Marion Warren sent in March of 2017, asking Warren to connect him with Dowless. “You know the political and financial connections better than anyone else I would know,” wrote Harris, “including the guy whose absentee ballot project for Johnson could have put me in the US House this term, had I known, and he had been helping us.”
“Johnson” was a reference to Todd Johnson, who had hired Dowless in his 2016 bid for the 9th District. Though Johnson finished third in the Republican primary that year, he won an impossible 221 of 226 absentee votes in Bladen County, the same county under intense scrutiny now. According to the Washington Post, Harris was warned by his advisers the night of the primary that he was likely the victim of fraud, yet he still sought out Dowless for his second congressional campaign last year—and as his message to Warren shows, he did so precisely because of Dowless’ efforts for Johnson.
Harris’ campaign has offered multiple, shifting explanations for why it withheld these documents until now, but board members aren’t buying it. It also appears that there are even more documents out there that haven’t been produced, as Harris’ attorneys, amazingly enough, say they did not search accounts belonging to Harris’ own campaign manager.
Marc Elias, the attorney for Harris’ Democratic opponent last year, Dan McCready, has asked the board to draw an “adverse inference” from the campaign’s failure to turn over these materials, saying it reflects “consciousness of guilt.” The board has yet to rule on Elias’ request, but no matter what, Thursday’s developments have been nothing but atrocious for the GOP. The board is expected to vote on whether to order a new election at the conclusion of these proceedings, but when that’ll be is anyone’s guess: Though the hearings were originally scheduled to last three days, board chair Bob Cordle now says they may continue through next week.