MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump has railed for months against voting by mail, which has expanded dramatically due to the pandemic. He has argued without evidence that more voting by mail will lead to fraud and might cost him reelection. Now, a day after the president declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, Trump's own Justice Department has given him a talking point about mail-in ballots. We're joined by NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: So what's going on here? What exactly has the Justice Department announced?
KHALID: Well, frankly, Mary Louise, I will say we have a lot more questions right now than answers. We don't have a lot of concrete information. What we know is that the FBI and the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania say that they are investigating potential issues of a small number of mail-in ballots that were discarded in Luzerne County. My colleague Carrie Johnson is reporting that authorities say there were nine military mail-in ballots that were discarded, and seven of those nine were ballots that were cast for President Trump.
KELLY: Nine mail in ballots - so a very small number indeed. OK. Do we know - is it unusual for the Justice Department to come out and make this kind of announcement?
KHALID: I will say it is unusual, particularly in the midst of an investigation and in an early stage of an investigation. The point also, though, that I would argue - the timing is unusual. Pennsylvania is a key state for the president. And the president, as, you know, we know - he has been railing against mail-in voting on principle for months and months, trying to just arouse suspicion around the legitimacy of absentee voting.
KELLY: The backdrop, of course, is that yesterday, President Trump declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose in the election - peaceful transfers of power being, of course, a bedrock of American democracy. How are Republicans, members of his own party, responding to his comment?
KHALID: Well, it's worth pointing out that, you know, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - he put out a tweet earlier this morning really making it clear where he stands. He says the winner of the November 3 election will be inaugurated on January 20. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792. We've also seen and heard some members, like Susan Collins of Maine, who say that they do have some concerns about the president's language. But I also think it's worth pointing out that there are also Republicans who are trying to spin this entire claim back at Democrats. And they're referring to a comment that the 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton made last month, when she advised Joe Biden not to concede under any circumstances because she thinks this election is going to drag on. And he needs to make sure that all absentee ballots are counted first.
KELLY: Asma, what are you hearing from other Democrats, from current elected officials?
KHALID: Well, Democrats really just see this as, you know, a sort of a continuation of the president raising suspicions about election integrity. This afternoon, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders delivered a speech that he called "Saving American Democracy." And he said in this speech that the U.S. president doesn't have a right to determine which ballots will and won't be counted.
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BERNIE SANDERS: That may be what his friend Putin does in Russia. It may be what is done in other authoritarian countries, but it is not and it will not be done in America. This is a democracy.
KHALID: And this is something that - you know, I should point out a lot of Democrats have been talking about - is specifically the need that Democrats, they say, need to vote and vote early so that there is a landslide. They feel like it will be harder for Trump to deny any sort of overwhelming results. But I will point out that all of this language from the president is worrying some local Democratic officials. You know, for example, we heard recently the mayor of Detroit is planning to essentially shut down city business for two days after the election to allow city employees to help count the large number of expected mail-in ballots.
KELLY: Wow. And what else? What is the big-picture strategy from Democrats? What are they putting together for how they're going to deal with - if President Trump follows through on what he says he's going to do and questions the election result in November?
KHALID: Well, the Biden campaign, you know, has previously said that it's planning a nine-figure investment in voter education. And it's talked about having one of the largest voter protection programs ever in a presidential campaign. You know, it is also worth pointing out that for months and months, Democrats have been focusing on the need to have people mail in ballots. But I will say I've begun to hear more from some Democrats that maybe they want to encourage people to vote safely in person.
KELLY: Okie doke (ph). NPR's Asma Khalid reporting there.
Thank you, Asma.
KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.