Richard Hopkins, a Pennsylvania postal worker who alleged voter fraud by his supervisor, recanted his allegations in an interview with federal agents on November 9. On November 10, the United States Postal Service (USPS) suspended Hopkins without pay pending the completion of an investigation. This suspension has attracted the attention of some whistleblower advocates who take issue with the specific language used to justify the suspension, regardless of the veracity of Hopkins’ allegations.
Hopkins initially claimed in a signed affidavit that on November 5, he heard the postmaster of his facility tell a colleague that he was backdating ballots to make it appear that they were collected on Election Day as opposed to the day after. In Pennsylvania, ballots postmarked for on or before Election Day are valid as long as they are received within three days of the election. Hopkins’ allegations were cited by a Trump campaign lawsuit seeking to delay the certification of election results in Pennsylvania.
On November 9, however, Hopkins walked back on his initial allegations and said he made assumptions based on snippets of conversations he overheard in a noisy mail facility. In a recording of Hopkins’ interview with federal agents, an agent from the USPS Office of Inspector General asked Hopkins if he stood by his sworn statement that the postmaster was backdating ballots collected after Election Day. Hopkins answered: “At this point? No.” Hopkins said he regretted signing the affidavit because it overstated what he knew and saw he said. At that time, Hopkins additionally signed a revised statement that undercut his earlier affidavit.
On November 11, following a Washington Post story reporting on his recanting, Hopkins posted a YouTube video in which he claimed he had not recanted on his previous allegations. Project Veritas, the organization that initially aired Hopkins’s claims last week, said the recording of the interview would show that Hopkins was coerced into recanting. However, during the interview, which was recorded and shared by Hopkins and Project Veritas, federal agents repeatedly informed Hopkins that his participation in the interview was voluntary. Hopkins additionally agreed to sign a document stating that he was not coerced.
Project Veritas’ role in the matter has raised suspicions for some. A right-wing organization, Project Veritas uses deceptive tactics, such as the non-consensual recording of Hopkins’ interview, to expose what it says is liberal bias and corruption in the mainstream media and government. During his interview, Hopkins told the federal agents that Project Veritas wrote the affidavit that he originally signed. Project Veritas has a long history of publicizing right-wing whistleblowers’ allegations. These whistleblowers would then receive tens of thousands of dollars through GoFundMe fundraisers. A since-deleted GoFundMe fundraiser for Hopkins had raised over $100,000. This pattern has led some to question whether Project Veritas “is offering its million-plus followers on social channels as an incentive to sources before and as they come forward.”
However, despite questions about Project Veritas’ involvement and the apparent lack of veracity of Hopkins’ initial allegations, whistleblower advocates have spoken up against Hopkins’ subsequent suspension. The USPS suspended Hopkins without pay until the completion of an internal investigation. The USPS cited the “employee may be injurious to himself and others,” as the reasoning for the suspension.
We should question what Project Veritas does & how it manipulated things, but the USPS #whistleblower should not have been suspended without pay right after cooperating with the Inspector General to revise his statement. This justification for suspension is a stretch & smells. pic.twitter.com/PfmMlU86VT
— David Colapinto (@dcolapinto) November 12, 2020
The reason cited by USPS for the suspension without pay is that the #whistleblower raising his concerns could result in harm to himself or others. That’s just ridiculous on its face.
— David Colapinto (@dcolapinto) November 12, 2020
The Whistleblower Protections Act prohibits federal agencies from retaliating against employees who report on the possible existence of wrongdoing or mismanagement. Suspension without pay is considered a retaliatory act. A whistleblower’s allegations do not have to be true in order for the whistleblower to be protected under the Act. However, a whistleblower must reasonably believe that their allegations could be true. During his interview, Hopkins claimed that he made the allegations in good faith and that he believed a federal investigation into voter fraud was warranted. He asked one of the agents: “You ever feel like you were doing the right thing but you kind of regret it anyways?”
The USPS drew criticism from whistleblower advocates in September when two internal memos were leaked. The memos instructed employees to not speak to the media but failed to inform employees of their First Amendment Rights.
Notably, Hopkins did not have a lawyer present with him during the interview despite the federal agents suggesting he should have a lawyer present. Hopkins told them he did not have a personal lawyer but that Project Veritas had a lawyer on retention.