President Donald Trump supporters gather on the statehouse steps as the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are sworn-in, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Credit: Laurence Kesterson / AP

PHILADELPHIA — Federal prosecutors in Harrisburg announced Friday they had found “insufficient evidence” of a crime in an election investigation that President Donald Trump and his allies had repeatedly touted as a sign of vote-rigging in Pennsylvania.

The case, involving nine military ballots found discarded in a Luzerne County trash bin, was unusual from the start. Breaking with traditional Justice Department norms that prohibit discussing most ongoing investigations — especially ones that could influence elections — then-U.S. Attorney David J. Freed sent out a news release confirming the probe after Trump alluded to the matter on a Fox News Radio segment in September.

The president then repeatedly cited it during his first debate against Joe Biden to bolster his baseless claims that widespread fraud would cost him the election.

In a since-deleted tweet, a Trump campaign spokesperson pointed to the case, claiming: “Democrats are trying to steal the election.”

In his announcement Friday, Freed’s successor, Acting U.S. Attorney Bruce D. Brandler, said no criminal charges will be filed.

“The matter is closed,” he said in a statement.

Officials in Luzerne County, in Northeastern Pennsylvania, had blamed the mistaken decision to throw out the nine ballots — seven of which were cast for Trump, the other two of which remained sealed — on an unidentified and poorly trained temporary employee who had been hired to help handle mail ballots.

The votes were retrieved from the trash and counted. The Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office referred the matter to federal prosecutors in an abundance of caution.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat and the state’s top elections official, described the matter as a “mistake,” but noted there was no suggestion of intentional wrongdoing, let alone widespread fraud.

The employee at the center of the investigation was subsequently fired.

Story by Jeremy Roebuck.