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Trump calls Florida vote count a 'disgrace' as recount looms in Senate race

Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson continued to chip away at Republican Rick Scott's lead in the Senate contest Friday.
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — President Donald Trump on Friday called the vote-counting process in Florida a "disgrace" and suggested federal authorities could get involved as the possibility of a recount looms in the Senate race.

"Well, it could be," Trump said when asked if the federal government could get involved, "because if you look at Broward, and Palm Beach to a lesser extent, if you look at Broward County, they have had a horrible history."

"All of the sudden, they're finding votes out of nowhere," Trump added, speaking to reporters on the White House South Lawn.

A razor-thin margin of less than 0.5 percent separates Republican challenger Rick Scott and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

"What's going on in Florida is a disgrace," Trump added. When pressed for evidence of impropriety, he pointed to the past.

"Go down and see what happened over the last period of time, 10 years. Take a look at Broward County," he said.

Moments later, as the president was en route to Paris for a meeting with world leaders, he tweeted, "You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia — but the Election was on Tuesday?"

In a follow-up tweet, he said, "Don't worry, Florida — I am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!" — again without providing evidence of any such malfeasance.

Scott's lead in the Senate contest was reduced to just 15,000 votes over Nelson as of Friday, setting up the possibility of a recount. It's unclear what role the federal government would play at this point in the regular vote counting process. Florida counties have a deadline of noon Saturday to deliver the first set of "unofficial returns" to the secretary of state after an election — a count that would occur even if the race wasn't close.

Trump on Friday said Scott "won by a comfortable margin" before suggesting without evidence that Democrats were committing fraud in the election.

"Every couple of hours, it goes down a little bit," Trump said of Scott's margin.

Later Friday, Trump continued to suggest without evidence that there was something nefarious happening in the two counties still counting votes.

"Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Election Day, now they 'found' many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes. 'The Broward Effect.' How come they never find Republican votes?" Trump tweeted.

In a follow-up tweet calling the ongoing vote counting process "an embarrassment to our Country," he wrongly claimed Nelson conceded his race.

Nelson never conceded the race, and it is not uncommon for election officials to continue counting ballots, such as mail-in and provisional, following Election Day.

Scott, the state's governor, filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing Democrats in Broward and Palm Beach counties of "rampant fraud" and of trying to steal the election — allegations for which he offered no proof.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee also joined Scott on Thursday to file suit against both Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher.

Scott alleges that the supervisors have violated federal and state laws by failing to provide information to officials. Scott also had harsh words for Nelson, who hired a lawyer after election night. Scott accused Nelson of bringing in an attorney to "try to steal the election and try to thwart the will of the voters of Florida."

Scott declared victory Tuesday night, but the race is still too close to call, according to NBC News.

Trump later weighed in, tweeting Thursday evening: “Law Enforcement is looking into another big corruption scandal having to do with Election Fraud in #Broward and Palm Beach. Florida voted for Rick Scott!”

At the press conference on Thursday, Scott told reporters that he was asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or FDLE, to investigate Democrats trying to "steal" this election in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

A spokesman for the FDLE told NBC News Friday morning that the agency was investigating after the governor’s request, but later, the spokesman said they are "not actively investigating" right now. After Scott's news conference, the agency said, it took the step of consulting with the Department of State and found no instances of criminal activity or fraud.

Should criminal activity or fraudulent activities become apparent and credible, the FDLE will again work with the DoS and investigate, the spokesman told NBC News.

Bucher, the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, responded to Scott on Friday, saying she's disappointed that he is interfering with the democratic process.

"I just felt it very unfortunate that some of the highest elected officials in our country are trying to disrupt our democracy because they don't like the demographics of our voters," she said.

"I would wish that they would allow us to continue to count the ballots, we're just doing our job in accordance with law," she added.

Nelson accused Scott of "trying to stop all the votes from being counted" and "impeding the democratic process" in a statement on Friday.

"You can see this from his irresponsible, unethical and unprecedented press statement last night that he’s worried and he’s desperate," Nelson said in the statement. "Scott is abusing the full force of his public office as governor to stop a complete and accurate counting of all the votes in Florida - which would determine whether he wins or loses."

In a call with reporters Thursday, Nelson's lawyer, Marc Elias, said that the race currently stands as a "jump ball" as counties around the state canvass their votes, but he believes Nelson will prevail in the end. He reiterated that sentiment on a second call Friday with reporters, while also hitting back at Scott.

"It is not appropriate for the governor of any state to suggest that he’s going to use the power of the state to interject," Elias said.

The deadline for all 67 Florida counties to submit their first set of unofficial returns is Saturday at noon ET, according to the secretary of state's office.

Ali Vitali reported from Tallahassee, and Dartunorro Clark reported from New York.