ATLANTA (AP) — A day after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, as the country was still reeling from the violent attempt to halt the transfer of presidential power, a local official from the Republican Party a group of computer experts outside the election office in a rural South Georgia county where they were given access to voting equipment.
Their intent was to copy software and data from the election systems in an attempt to prove claims made by President Donald Trump and his allies that voting machines were rigged to flip the 2020 election to his challenger, Democrat Joe Biden, according to a wide-ranging indictment published late Monday.
Several of those involved are among 19 people, including the former president, charged with multiple counts in what Georgia prosecutors described as a “conspiracy to unlawfully alter the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor.”
The charges related to the breach of election equipment in Coffee County highlight that the pressure campaign of the former president and his allies did not stop at state officials and legislators, but extended to local government. Drawing on Georgia’s racketeering law, the type of prosecution more commonly associated with mobsters, the indictment alleges that the events in Coffee County were part of a broader attempt by Trump associates to illegally access voting devices in multiple states.
“The one thing that shows Coffee County, and these other counties as well, is that the efforts behind Jan. 6 didn’t stop on Jan. 6,” said Lawrence Norden, an election security expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU. School of Law. “Continued efforts to undermine and sabotage elections continue.”
The security breach at the election office in Coffee County, about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta, is one of the first known attempts by Trump allies to gain access to voting systems as they sought evidence to substantiate their baseless claims that such equipment had manipulated the presidential election. It was followed a short time later by infringements in three Michigan counties involving some of the same people and again in a western Colorado county that Trump won handily.
While the county-level equipment breaches have raised alarms about election data falling into the wrong hands and led to two other prosecutions, they were absent from the recent federal indictment against Trump for alleged interference in the 2020 election. the first to claim the breaches were part of a conspiracy by Trump and his allies to reverse the results.
Four people face six charges related to the Coffee County breach, including conspiracy to commit voter fraud, conspiracy to commit computer theft and conspiracy to defraud the state. They are attorney and Trump ally Sidney Powell, former Coffee County Elections Director Misty Hampton, former Coffee County GOP Chair Cathy Latham, who also served as a false voter for Trump, and Scott Graham Hall, an Atlanta-area bail bondsman alleged to prosecutors have been linked to former Trump adviser David Bossie.
A Powell attorney declined to comment, while messages requesting responses from the others were not immediately returned.
While Trump continues to promote his election claims, multiple assessments, audits and recounts in the battlefield states where he contests his loss — including in Georgia, which ran the presidential election three times — have confirmed Biden’s win. Trump’s claims were also rejected by dozens of judges, including several he appointed. His attorney general and an extensive review by The Associated Press found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have altered the results.
After the 2020 election, Trump and Powell propagated several voting machine conspiracy theories specifically related to the Dominion Voting Systems equipment used in Georgia. Dominion reached a $787 million settlement with Fox News earlier this year over false claims broadcast on the network, including by Powell.
Court documents in Georgia show that on December 6, 2020, Powell hired a forensic data company to collect and analyze Dominion equipment in Michigan and elsewhere, and prosecutors allege that the election equipment breach in Coffee County was “subsequently carried out under this agreement” .
On January 7, 2021, Hall and data company employees traveled to the election office to copy software and data from voting equipment and were greeted outside by GOP official Latham and then shown a tour of the office by election director Hampton, according to the indictment and video surveillance obtained in a unrelated case about Georgia’s electronic voting machines.
Later videos showed Hampton opening the office on January 18, when it was otherwise closed due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. She let in Douglas Logan and Jeff Lenberg, both of whom have been active nationally in efforts to challenge the 2020 election and were part of the effort to investigate Michigan voting machines.
Neither Logan nor Lenberg were charged in Monday’s indictment.
Logan’s company, Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based firm with little election experience, was later hired by Arizona GOP lawmakers to review the 2020 election in Maricopa County. It ultimately confirmed Biden’s victory, but claimed to have found several irregularities — claims that election experts said were inaccurate, misleading or based on a flawed understanding of the data.
In Coffee County, the men worked late into the night and returned the next day. Lenberg was seen in the office for at least three more days later that month, according to information gathered in the separate voting machine lawsuit. Hampton resigned shortly after their visits amid allegations of fraudulent timesheets.
This week’s indictment also mentions a December 18, 2020, hearing in the Oval Office where Trump allies, including Powell and Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, proposed ordering the military to seize voting machines and appoint a special prosecutor. to allegations of voter fraud in Georgia and other battlefield states that Trump lost.
In Michigan, authorities have charged three people in connection with trespasses in three counties, including former Republican attorney general nominee Matthew DePerno, who has pleaded not guilty along with the others.
So far, the special counsel assigned to the case has not charged any of the employees who handed over the voting equipment, nor has he charged those who were asked to analyze them. In a statement, the special counsel said they had been misled.
With Monday’s indictment, Hampton becomes the second most senior election official in the district to be charged in connection with a security breach in their office. The first was Tina Peters, the former clerk in Mesa County, Colorado, who has emerged as a prominent figure among those who say voting machines are rigged. Both no longer work in elections.
Prosecutors allege that Peters and her deputy were part of a “deceptive plan” to allow unauthorized access to the county’s voting systems during a May 2021 breach that ultimately resulted in a copy of the voting system’s hard drive being posted online.
Weeks later, Peters appeared at an event hosted by Trump ally Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow who has tried to prove the 2020 election was stolen and called for a ban on voting machines.
Peters has denied wrongdoing and will be tried later this year. Her deputy pleaded guilty to lesser charges as part of an agreement with prosecutors.
Experts have described the unauthorized release in Colorado as serious, saying it could provide a “practice environment” for anyone to investigate for vulnerabilities that could be exploited during future elections. Experts also worry that it could be used to spread misinformation about voting devices.
Colorado’s top election official, Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold, said accountability is crucial to deter future attempts to illegally access voting systems.
“We cannot allow election officials to destroy elections from within,” she said.
Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta; Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, and Eric Tucker and Farnoush Amiri in Washington, DC, contributed to this report.