North Carolina Republican Mark Harris was warned repeatedly by his own son that Leslie McCrae Dowless — the political operative at the center of an election fraud investigation — was “shady” and should not be hired, according to The Washington Post.
John Harris, who is an assistant U.S. attorney in Raleigh, testified on Wednesday that he cautioned his father in conversations and emails that Dowless appeared to have used illegal tactics regarding absentee ballot collection in 2016 while working for a different Republican candidate.
The younger Harris offered the same concerns to the campaign’s chief strategist, Andy Yates, but his father decided to hire Dowless despite his concerns.
During his testimony before the North Carolina State Board of Elections, John Harris said he suspected that Dowless had engaged in illegal activity:
“I thought what he was doing was illegal, and I was right.” 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. I think Dowless told them he wasn’t doing any of this, and they believed him.”
The testimony stood in stark contrast to statements made by both Mark Harris and Yates, who have claimed they had no red flags that Dowless was anything less than trustworthy.
Yates testified for nearly eight hours prior to John Harris taking the stand, the Post reported, during which the campaign strategist said there was little oversight for Dowless’ activities.
John Harris said he first began looking into Dowless after his father lost the Republican primary to then-incumbent Robert Pittenger by a narrow margin. He recounted to the election board that both candidates suffered a dramatic loss to a third candidate, Todd Johnson, among mail-in voters in Bladen County.
Johnson had hired Dowless to run his absentee ballot program.
According to the Post, Harris “described digging into the numbers and discovering that mailed ballots for Johnson had arrived at county election offices “in batches” — which he believed suggested that they had been collected illegally by campaign workers.”
Mark Harris was scheduled to begin his testimony on Thursday morning.