- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2020

In less than a week, Richard Hopkins has gone from inconspicuous Pennsylvania letter carrier to the 2020 election’s best-known whistleblower, but he insists he would rather be back in Afghanistan facing enemy fire than remain in the media spotlight.

“I tell y’all, I’d rather be out back in Afghanistan, being shot at by Afghans, honest to God, than having to be in this kind of position,” Mr. Hopkins told the undercover activist group Project Veritas in a video released Wednesday.

He has his reasons. Since he went public on his allegations of possible ballot-tampering at the Erie Post Office, Mr. Hopkins has been suspended without pay from his job pending an investigation into his claims and grilled for hours by federal agents.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee accused him Tuesday of signing an affidavit recanting his allegations, which he denies, while President Trump praised him as a “brave patriot.” A crowdfunding account in his name had raised $130,000, until GoFundMe canceled the effort and began refunding donations.

It’s overwhelming stuff for the 32-year-old Marine veteran and postal worker from Erie, Pennsylvania, and yet Mr. Hopkins said he would encourage other postal employees with concerns about ballot irregularities to do the same thing.

“If there’s anybody out there that has seen something or feels like there’s something janky going with this election, to include postal workers that were picking up ballots and giving them to supervisors, you should come out,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Richard Hopkins, Pa. postal whistleblower, placed on leave without pay

His faith in the system comes even though his job may be in jeopardy.

He received a letter Thursday saying he had been placed on “off-duty/non-pay status effective November 10, 2020,” and that his actions “may have placed employees and yourself as well as the reputation of the U.S. Postal Service in harm’s way.”

“You are to remain off work until the completion of the OIG and internal investigation,” said the letter from U.S. Postal Service customer service manager Stephanie Hetrick posted on social media by Project Veritas.

Mr. Hopkins came forward last week in a Project Veritas video saying that mail carriers at his office had been instructed to collect and turn in ballots received after the Nov. 3 election, and then said he heard Erie Postmaster Robert Weisenbach talking to a supervisor about backdating ballots.

Mr. Hopkins later executed an affidavit that was forwarded Friday by the Trump campaign to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, who said Saturday that he would investigate “all credible allegations of voting irregularities and misconduct.”

Mr. Weisenbach has denied the allegation, while the House Oversight Committee tweeted Tuesday that Mr. Hopkins “completely RECANTED his allegations of a supervisor tampering with mail-in ballots after being questioned by investigators,” citing the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General.

The investigators “informed Committee staff today that they interviewed Hopkins on Friday, but that Hopkins RECANTED HIS ALLEGATIONS yesterday and did not explain why he signed a false affidavit,” the committee tweeted.

Hours later, Mr. Hopkins denied the committee’s claim, saying in a video post: “I am here to say that I did not recant my statements. That did not happen. That is not what happened.”

Project Veritas released Wednesday a two-hour audio of the interrogation — Mr. Hopkins was wearing a wire — in which investigators praise him for his integrity and military service while suggesting that he had embellished his story and encouraging him to scale back his claims to “the barest truth.”

The investigators had him sign a document agreeing that he had not been coerced and asked if he had a lawyer. Mr. Hopkins said he did not, although he added that Project Veritas had said it would provide him with legal representation if he needed it.

“I just need to make sure of that because if you did, I would make whatever efforts possible to have that person here,” said the lead investigator, identified as Russell Strasser. “But if a person hasn’t been identified and assigned to you, that is a hurdle we don’t have to jump, OK?”

Mr. Strasser suggested that Mr. Hopkins was too far from his supervisors to hear their conversation clearly, and warned that “this storm is getting crazy” and “it’s out of a lot of people’s control.”

“I actually believe what you’re saying,” Mr. Strasser said in the audio. “But I also feel like we need to make sure that it is 1000% correct and 1000% shaved down to only the exact truth.”

He suggested that some people might accuse him of profiting from “deceptions,” referring to the crowdfunding account, that “you could be held accountable for. And I am not going to allow that.”

“I don’t consider an exaggeration a lie, OK? But when it’s out of our hands, it can turn that way very quickly,” Mr. Strasser said.

Mr. Hopkins can be heard second-guessing himself during the interrogation, at one point saying that “my memory’s fuzzy on this and getting fuzzier every freaking day,” and admitting that “I’m still as nervous as hell. I’m still shaky.”

Mr. Strasser also gives him a hypothetical: “What would you say if it came out that Rob did not say that? He used those words, but he was actually saying something else.”

Mr. Hopkins replied: “I would feel f—-ing horrible.” Asked if he would “believe it’s possible,” he responded, “Maybe, yeah it’s possible.

Mr. Hopkins told the investigators at the end of the two-hour audio that he was wearing a wire, and cut off the recording before they had finished wording his statement.

As it turns out, the question of whether ballots were illegally backdated may be irrelevant to the outcome of the election.

Pennsylvania’s elections chief announced Tuesday that 10,000 ballots were received after the polls closed on Nov. 3, and Mr. Trump trails former Vice President Joseph R. Biden by about 47,000 votes.

Under state law, ballots must be postmarked on or before Nov. 3 to be counted, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last week that ballots may be tallied as long as they are received by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6.

Project Veritas chief legal counsel Jered Ede accused the investigators of coercing Mr. Hopkins and failing to provide him with a copy of the signed document.

“It was coerced,” Mr. Ede told the Washington Times. “They forced him to execute this watered-down lukewarm affidavit. They did so during an interrogation where again they denied him the opportunity to be represented by counsel even though he confirmed with them that he had counsel.”

The USPS issued a statement saying that the agency “became aware of these allegations on Friday, November 6.”

“They were immediately referred to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Office of Inspector General, and the matter remains under investigation,” said the USPS.

Agapi Doulaveris, OIG public-information officer, said in an email, “The U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General does not comment on ongoing matters.”

While Mr. Hopkins was friendly and cooperative with the investigators, he told Project Veritas afterward that he believed he was manipulated.

“They were grilling the hell out of me,” Mr. Hopkins said. “I feel like I just got played.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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