Florida’s outgoing Democratic agricultural commissioner, Nikki Fried, is asking the Justice Department to knock down former President Donald Trump’s claims that he used the FBI to help Gov. Ron DeSantis win the gubernatorial race in 2018.
Last week, Trump said in an online post without citing any evidence that he sent the FBI and U.S. Attorney to end unspecified ballot theft before Democrats ran out of votes necessary to win the Florida governor’s race.
With Trump’s endorsement that year, DeSantis narrowly beat then-Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum – after a mandatory recount – by less than one-half a percentage point out of more than 8.1 million votes.
“I was all in for Ron, and he beat Gillum, but after the race, when votes were being stolen by the corrupt election process in Broward County, and Ron was going down ten thousand votes a day, along with now-Senator Rick Scott, I sent in the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys, and the ballot theft immediately ended, just prior to them running out of votes necessary to win,” Trump said in his statement. “I stopped his election from being stolen.”
Fried, who lost this year’s Democratic nomination in the governor’s race, wrote to the Justice Department asking it to declare Trump’s statement to be false. Fried was elected in 2018 to her post as agricultural commissioner, the only Democrat elected to statewide office that year.
“We need the Department of Justice to clarify that they were not engaged and that this was just the president going on to another lie to undermine the election processes in our country,” Fried said in an interview.
Trump’s claim about involving the FBI and federal prosecutors in Broward County was news to employees of the county’s supervisor of elections. The current chief election official, Ivan Castro, said there was no evidence of any federal law enforcement presence in the county’s offices during the 2018 elections.
Trump’s statement, published two days after DeSantis won re-election by historic margins, appeared to be a dig at Florida’s governor – widely expected to compete against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 – and another effort to raise doubts among his supporters about the integrity of American elections.
Even as Trump announced Tuesday night in Palm Beach that he was officially running for the presidency, he repeated false claims about widespread fraud during the 2020 presidential election.
Still, Election Night in 2018 didn’t go smoothly in Broward County. A county audit, completed in 2020, concluded that the election wasn’t managed “efficiently and effectively.” The audit said vote-by-mail ballots delayed election results and weren’t tracked, recounted results were updated late, which caused the state to reject them, and half the precincts showed more votes than actual voters on Election Day.
“Had the recount results been accepted, they would have reflected an underreporting of 2,335 ballots which were misplaced and not included in the recount,” the audit said. DeSantis beat Gillum by 32,463 votes.
Separately, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated whether there had been any fraud in the 2018 race and found no evidence of fraud. “Safeguards were in position to alleviate any possible voter fraud,” the FDLE report concluded.
Then-Gov. Scott suspended the county’s elections supervisor, Brenda Snipes, and DeSantis accepted her resignation after he took office.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to phone messages left with its press staff in Washington.
After supporting DeSantis in 2018, Trump – who said he voted for DeSantis in this year’s elections – has had an uneasy relationship with Florida’s popular governor. He called him “DeSanctimonious” during a rally weeks ago. He pointedly did not mention DeSantis in his speech Tuesday night, and DeSantis was not in the audience.
Asked earlier Tuesday about Trump’s barb, DeSantis called such criticisms “just noise” and referred to this year’s election results in Florida, where Republicans were remarkably successful. “Check out the scoreboard,” DeSantis said.
After DeSantis defeated Gillum, the former mayor was charged in a federal public corruption case – which is still continuing – involving donations to his gubernatorial campaign. Gillum’s lawyers cited Trump’s new claims in an effort to raise questions about whether Trump directed the FBI to target Gillum. The judge has not yet responded to their filing.
“Trump’s posts raise serious questions about how exactly Trump ‘fixed’ DeSantis’ campaign and what Trump directed the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to do, and whether there is any connection to the FBI’s investigation and later prosecution of Gillum,” Gillum’s lawyers wrote last week in a federal court filing.