RALEIGH, N.C. – The son of Republican Congressional candidate Mark Harris testified Wednesday that he had repeatedly warned his father that he believed that a political operative had previously used illegal tactics to win votes.
John Harris, now an assistant U.S. attorney in Raleigh, said he advised his father in conversations and emails that he believed Leslie McCrae Dowless was "shady" and appeared to have illegally collected absentee ballots in 2016 while working for a different Republican candidate in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District
The younger Harris, who is 29, said he offered advice to his father as he considered whether to hire Dowless to run his absentee-ballot program in the 201
At one point during his testimony, John Harris's voice cracked and his father wept
"I thought what he was doing was illegal , and I was right, "John Harris said about Dowless. He added: "I had no reason to believe that my father actually knew, or my mother or any other associate with the campaign had any knowledge. "
Harris's dramatic testimony undercut claims by both his father, a 52-year-old evangelical minister, and Yates – who completed nearly eight hours of testimony earlier Thursday – that they were not aware of any red flags that Dowless might be breaking the law. Investigators also shared an email between father and son in which the younger Harris wrote: "Good test is if you're comfortable with the full process he uses being broadcast on the news."
John Harris's account ended the third day of the testimony before the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which is hearing evidence this week to decide whether a suspected ballot-tampering scheme tainted the outcome in the 9th District, where Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes in unofficial returns.
The election, the last undecided congress race in the country, has been in limbo since November, when the board declined to certify a winner and launched an investigation instead. The younger Harris told board Wednesday that he began to study absentee-ballot summaries, and that he would have to wait for at least another day, with the elder Harris scheduled to open his testimony Thursday morning
in the 9th District in June 2016, when his father narrowly lost the Republican primary to then-incumbent Robert Pittenger. In Harris and Pittenger, Harris and Pittenger had dramaticly lost the vote among the mail-in voters to a third candidate, Todd Johnson – who had hired Dowless to run his absentee program
John Harris described the digging into the numbers and discovering that mailed the ballots for Johnson had arrived at county election offices "in batches" – which he believed suggested that they had been illegally collected by campaign workers. It is a felony in North Carolina to collect and turn into another voter's ballot.
Dowless, 63, and Bladen County native who declined to testify this week to avoid self-incrimination, is accused of doing just that in the 2018 cycle – hiring a team of workers
Both Yates and Harris have denied the knowledge of those alleged tactics. But in another email from 2016 displayed during Wednesday's testimony, the two Harris discussed the anomalies that year – as well as the irony that Dowless had filed with a complaint to state election officials that Democrats had employed similar tactics in Bladen County
In a televised interview in early January, Mark Harris told Specrum News in Raleigh that reports, including one in The Washington Post, that he had been
In his testimony Wednesday, the younger Harris also questioned the account of Yates, whose political consulting firm, Red Dome Group, had paid Dowless on behalf of the campaign
John Harris said he was surprised to hear how little oversight Yates provided to ensure that Dowless was performing the services that he was being paid for. He was also surprised to hear Yates say he was shocked to learn about Dowless's alleged tactics once the investigation began in November
"Mr. Yates said he was shocked and disturbed by the testimony, "the younger Harris said. "I was disturbed. "
Harris said that after he warned Yates of Dowless," Andy assured me, "Yeah, we're going to make sure he does what he says he's going to do."
But in his testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, Yates describes an arrangement in which there was little oversight or accountability for Dowless's activities.
John Harris emphasized his belief that his parents did not know Dowless's alleged tactics, but he also "
" The younger Harris asked the election board if he could make a few final remarks after the lawyers had completed their questioning of him. I love my dad, and I love my mom, "he said. "I certainly have no vendetta against them, no family scores to settle. I think they made mistakes in this process, and they certainly did things differently than I would have done. "
Harris also criticized both parties for working to protect their political interests rather than protect the integrity of the electoral process.