Mark Harris breaks silence, says he would 'wholeheartedly support' new election if there's fraud

The Republican candidate in North Carolina's unresolved congressional race on Friday is pledging that he will "wholeheartedly support" a new election if a state investigation "finds proof of illegal activity" that could have affected the outcome of the November election.

Mark Harris, who currently leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, also asserts he'll cooperate with investigators even as he maintained he was unaware of any alleged illegal activity.

"I trust the process that's underway," Harris says in a video he posts on his Twitter account. "I trust this investigation will be full and complete, examining any irregularities that could have benefited either party."

Also on Friday, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement confirmed that Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr. is indeed a person of interest in connection with the probe into an alleged scheme involving absentee ballots in Bladen County. A spokesman for the board also shed light on the breadth of the investigation, which is being conducted by four investigations "with law enforcement experience are working full-time on this matter."

According to the NCSBE, the chief investigator is Joan Fleming, a 26-year veteran of the FBI who "specialized in fraud investigations."

The State Board has also issued subpoenas for documents to Red Dome Group, the Mark Harris for Congress Committee and the James Atlas McVicker Committee.

The Mark Harris campaign listed its debt to the Red Dome Group in a late Thursday filing with the Federal Election Commission. The form said the nature of the debt included: "Reimbursement Payment for Bladen Absentee, Early Voting Poll Workers; Reimbursement Door to Door."

Bladen County's absentee ballots are at the center of a fraud probe that has prompted the North Carolina Elections Board to refuse to certify Harris as the winner over Democrat Dan McCready. The board cited allegations of "irregularities and concerted fraudulent activities" involving mail-in ballots, and subpoenaed both the Harris campaign and Red Dome for documents.

The board could order a new election after meeting later this month to consider the evidence. For now, the vote count remains unofficial, with Harris leading McCready by 905 votes.

Some Bladen County voters have said strangers came to their homes to collect their absentee ballots, whether or not they had been fully completed or sealed in an envelope to keep them from being altered, according to affidavits offered by the state Democratic Party. State law allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter.

Red Dome hired Bladen County contractor McCrae Dowless, whose criminal record includes prison time in 1995 for felony fraud and a conviction for felony perjury in 1992.

According to documents released by the elections board, Dowless seems to have collected the most absentee ballot request forms in Bladen County this fall. A copy of the Bladen election board's logbook shows Dowless turned in well over 500 applications.

The FEC report also lists two other debts totaling nearly $20,000 to Red Dome for digital advertising, robocalls and mailings for Harris. The filing says those mailings were in Robeson County, another area where the state board has sought information as part of its probe. The details were part of a wide-ranging post-election report on the campaign's finances.

McCready, expressing outrage over what he called a shameful attack on democracy, withdrew his concession in a video released late Thursday. He's demanding that Harris explain what he knows about the absentee ballot allegations.

"He hired a criminal who was under investigation for ballot fraud to do his absentee ballot work, and it looks like he got what he paid for," McCready told CNN on Friday.

Harris didn't respond to a message seeking comment late Thursday. He issued a statement last week saying he supports a voter fraud investigation, but that the race should be certified in the meantime because there didn't appear to be enough questioned votes to erase his lead. His campaign lawyer said this week the organization wasn't aware of any illegal conduct during the race.

Dowless declined to comment when visited by an Associated Press reporter this week at his home, and didn't immediately respond to a phone message Friday. The head of the Red Dome Group, Andy Yates, also didn't immediately respond to an email Friday.

Three Republican State Senators called on Gov. Roy Cooper to appoint a bipartisan task force to investigate the voting irregularities in the election.

Immediately following the Republicans, NC Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said Republicans are doing everything they can to distract from the issue at hand.

"We have voters who are the victims here. This is election fraud, election rigging, election tampering. And we should focus on this election. But if we learn other information about prior elections, then we need to go where the facts take us," Goodwin said.

"If they have evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that this election outcome was or could have been changed, then we think the law requires a new election, and we would not oppose that," said Dallas Woodhouse, the NCGOP Executive Director. "The important thing here is that we all work together, Republicans, Democrats, unaffiliated. People that really believe in the political system for the right reason, and stamp this garbage out once and for all, forever. And severely punish the people involved."

As questions continue to swirl around amid allegations of election fraud in a critical North Carolina congressional race, the man at the center of the scandal, Dowless, declined to comment on the growing scandal when asked today by ABC's Steve Osunsami.

"At this time I have no comment and you can contact my attorney," Dowless, who worked as a campaign consultant for Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris during the 2018 election, told Osunsami when asked about his role in an alleged scheme to submit fraudulent absentee ballots."

When asked to respond to people who say he rigged the election, Dowless responded with a "no comment."
Copyright © 2021 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.