The Justice Department has approved the use of armed agents to investigate potential voter fraud at ballot-counting centers, skirting the long-standing ban on the use of armed federal officers at polling stations.
Justice Department officials told United States attorneys nationwide in a memo that the prohibition only applies to Election Day, not the days after.
The statute “does not prevent armed federal law enforcement persons from responding to, investigate or even prevent federal crimes at closed polling places or other locations where votes are being counted,” Richard P. Donoghue wrote in an email sent around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The New York Times first reported the email Thursday.
Mr. Donoghue did not say whether Justice Department approval was needed for the deployment of agents but suggested that it should be aware if any action is taken.
“Should the need to send federal law enforcement officers to such locations arise, please make immediate notifications to the department,” he wrote.
A Justice Department official told The Washington Times that memo was sent in anticipation of any disruption to the ballot counting. The official said the Justice Department wanted to make sure state and local officials knew the federal government was available to help.
The Justice Department has not dispatched federal agents anywhere, the official told The Times.
President Trump has vowed for months to use federal officers to combat what he says is widespread voter fraud. Earlier this year, he threatened to use law enforcement to patrol polling sites on Election Day.
“We’re going to have everything,” Mr. Trump said in an interview on Fox News. “We’re going to have sheriffs, and we’re going to have law enforcement, and we’re going to hopefully have U.S. attorneys and we’re going to have everybody, and attorney generals. But it’s very hard.”
The possible use of armed federal agents will likely roil Democrats, concerned that the Justice Department is using heavy-handed tactics to fan the flames in an already tense election. Some states have not finished counting votes amid razor-thin margins between Mr. Trump and Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden.
Earlier this year, Democrats and liberal groups blasted Mr. Trump and Attorney General William Barr for authorizing federal agents to clear Lafayette Square Park near the White House amid this summer’s racial justice protests.
Mr. Trump has also deployed federal agents to quell protests in cities across the country, including Seattle and Portland, Oregon.