Capitol Recap: Subpoenas reveal Trump team gained access to sensitive voting files

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

GBI is investigating the collection of election data in Coffee County

An Atlanta tech firm, under the direction of an attorney for Donald Trump, helped copy numerous sensitive Georgia election files in Coffee County, according to documents produced in response to subpoenas.

The GBI confirmed that it has opened a criminal investigation.

The data was collected, the documents state, after Coffee County election officials gave a group access to equipment that was supposed to be kept secure from outsiders.

Computer trespass is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Trump attorney Sidney Powell helped coordinate the effort, and she was billed over $26,000 by the Atlanta tech firm SullivanStrickler, records show.

“Sidney, everything went smoothly yesterday with the Coffee County collection. Everyone involved was extremely helpful,” SullivanStrickler Chief Operating Officer Paul Maggio wrote in a Jan. 8, 2021, email to Powell. “We are consolidating all of the data collected and will be uploading it to our secure site for access by your team. Hopefully we can take care of payment today.”

Text messages indicate that local officials who helped in the effort included election board member Eric Chaney, former county Election Director Misty Hampton and former county Republican Party Chairwoman Cathy Latham, who also attempted to cast Georgia’s Electoral College votes for Trump as a fake elector for the Georgia Republican Party.

Some of the people who collected the data in Coffee County also worked with Trump supporters to penetrate election systems in other states, including Michigan and Nevada.

Voting machines and other election equipment drew scrutiny following Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election, when his supporters falsely claimed that fraud had determined the outcome and alleged that voting machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems had been part of the scheme. Recounts, court cases and investigations have upheld Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.

Election integrity activists who filed the lawsuit that produced the subpoenas say the Coffee County case shows that Georgia’s touchscreen-based voting system is vulnerable to insider attacks. They say the state should switch to paper ballots.

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Kemp to dish out $1 billion in federal aid to Georgians in need

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who is up for reelection, announced this past week that he will distribute to people in need more than $1 billion in federal aid that he didn’t want.

The money, in the form of one-time $350 payments, will go to some of the state’s most vulnerable residents: those enrolled in state benefits programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (better known as food stamps) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Funding the payments will be money remaining from a COVID-19 relief package that congressional Democrats approved in March 2021.

Kemp opposed the relief package, but under state law, the governor decides how the federal money is spent.

The governor’s office estimates that about 3 million Georgia residents could benefit from the move. More than one person in each household could qualify for payments.

“We will continue identifying ways to put money back into the pockets of hardworking Georgians,” Kemp said in a video accompanying the announcement.

Alex Floyd, a spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, said the governor hasn’t done enough to expand access to public health programs or fully spend federal rental assistance money for those in need.

“Now, in the middle of a reelection campaign, he’s taking money to stage more political gimmicks,” Floyd said.

To be eligible for the payment, a Georgia resident must have been enrolled in a state benefits program as of July 31. Residents enrolled in more than one program will only receive one cash payment.

The Department of Human Services will contact Georgia residents who are eligible via the state’s online portal for benefits.

Abrams sees need to build support among Black men

Stacey Abrams could become the first Black woman to serve as a governor in the U.S., but she says it could be up to Black men to make that happen.

“If Black men vote for me, I’ll win Georgia,” the Democrat said at a recent “Stacey and the Fellas” event in Cobb County.

She’s not there yet.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll last month showed Abrams underperforming with Black voters, with about 80% of the vote. She also trailed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp among male voters, 57% to 33%.

Overall, the poll showed her lagging behind Kemp by 5 percentage points.

During a taping for “Pod Save America,” Abrams said Black men have a “remarkable power” to swing an election.

“They have a capacity that sometimes it’s not met by their turnout, which is legitimate and honest and I don’t disparage those who make the decision not to vote because often the leadership that gets elected is not reflective of their needs,” she said.

“That said,” Abrams added, “I know that if we have the kind of turnout possible among Black men and they vote for me, I will win this election. That is why my campaign has been so focused on making sure we’re addressing those challenges.”

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Georgia’s top races feature big spending on advertising

Everybody is spending big on advertising in Georgia’s top races, although Democrats appear to be shelling out more.

Political operative Rick Dent found that more than $270 million worth of ads have already been booked or reserved in Georgia.

In the race for governor, the total has hit $64 million. Democrat Stacey Abrams is responsible for about $38 million of that, with supporters of Republican incumbent Brian Kemp dropping about $26 million.

But the big money — $207 million, so far — is being placed on the U.S. Senate race.

More than $117 million has been spent in support of Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s reelection. At least $90 million has been allocated to back Herschel Walker’s effort to return the seat, and possibly control of the Senate, to Republicans.

Some of that money is coming from outside groups, but the candidates appear to be sitting on fat wallets.

Warnock and Walker are among their parties’ top fundraisers in Senate races.

Warnock leads all senators after taking in $84 million. He still had $22 million left to spend at the time of his most recent quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission.

Walker has collected about $20 million in donations and reported in his latest financial disclosure that he still had $6.8 million in the bank.

In the governor’s race, Abrams has brought in nearly $50 million, while Kemp has raised about $31 million.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Giuliani appears before special grand jury, but Kemp balks at summons

After originally seeking to delay his testimony, Rudy Giuliani appeared before a grand jury investigating whether Donald Trump and his allies broke any state laws when they tried to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results.

The appearance by Giuliani, Trump’s onetime personal lawyer, came days after the former mayor of New York’s own attorney confirmed that his client was a target of the investigation and could be indicted.

While Giuliani is among the best-known of the dozens of witnesses to appear before the grand jury, it’s uncertain how much information he would give the panel.

“Grand juries, as I recall, are secret,” said Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor. “They ask the questions and we’ll see. "

It’s possible he pleaded the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination, and he likely cited attorney-client privilege to avoid answering questions about specific conversations he had with Trump.

Some legal experts, however, said Giuliani would not have blanket legal immunity because of what’s known as the “crime-fraud exception.” That exempts discussions from attorney-client privilege if the objective was to commit a crime or perpetrate a fraud.

Those experts suggested that prosecutors might try to cite the exception by pointing out that Giuliani’s law license was suspended in June 2021 after a New York appellate court determined he made “demonstrably false and misleading statements” on behalf of Trump following the 2020 election, including at legislative hearings in Georgia.

It was up to Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney to determine what’s protected by privilege and what can be probed by the grand jury.

Giuliani’s involvement in several Georgia events in late 2020 have drawn the interest of the grand jury, including his role in the appointment of a slate of “alternate” Trump electors. Jurors have already questioned witnesses who were called by Giuliani as Georgia’s election results were being disputed and attended three hearings at the state Capitol where he unleashed numerous false allegations of widespread fraud.

The secretary of state’s office quickly debunked Giuliani’s claims, but he continued to press them in the following weeks.

Giuliani had sought to delay his testimony that had been scheduled a week earlier, with his legal team submitting a note from his doctor saying he could not fly after undergoing a recent heart stent operation. But McBurney ordered him to honor his subpoena.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brian Kemp is fighting a subpoena to appear before the same grand jury, accusing Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis of playing politics by requiring his testimony less than 90 days before an election.

Kemp was originally scheduled to record a video statement for the grand jury late last month, but that was canceled. He then received a subpoena to appear this past week. That’s now on hold while McBurney considers the motion the governor’s team filed.

The DA’s office had no comment on the filing, But an email from Willis that was included in Kemp’s motion points to tensions between the two camps.

“We have been working with you in good faith for months. You have been rude and even disparaging to my staff. You have been less than honest about conversations that have taken place,” Willis told Kemp’s attorney, Brian F. McEvoy. “The email you have sent is offensive and beneath an officer of the court. You are both wrong and confused.”

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Thousands of poll workers needed

Help wanted: poll workers.

With early voting set to begin in less than two months, Georgia election officials face a labor shortage that numbers in the thousands.

All the largest counties in metro Atlanta are trying to find new hires between now and Election Day. Fulton County set a hiring target of over 2,000 poll workers, and DeKalb County is seeking1,700.

But the counties are facing some of the same problems confronting other employers in a tight job market.

Pay for the temporary work is relatively low, and the hours are long.

Some counties are boosting compensation. In DeKalb, pay for election clerks starts at $15 per hour. Election Day pay begins at $175 in Fulton, $150 in Cobb County and $120 in Gwinnett County.

There are some other challenges, though.

Ask Shaye Moss.

She’s the Fulton election worker who told the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that she went into hiding after receiving threats on Facebook from those who wrongly believed the 2020 election was stolen.

The work won’t only be on Nov. 8. Under the voting law the General Assembly approved last year, all counties must provide at least 17 days of early voting, starting on Oct. 17. That includes two Saturdays.

Georgians interested in becoming poll workers can apply through their county election offices or submit their information online through the secretary of state’s Secure the Vote website. The Metro Atlanta Chamber announced that it is helping to enroll poll workers through gapollworker.com. Those who submit their information through the site will be put in touch with their local election offices.

Job seekers must be at least 16 years old, willing to work from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day, attend training, read and write English, and have reliable transportation.

Political expedience

  • New boss at the GBI: Former Cobb County Police Chief Michael Register is Gov. Brian Kemp’s choice to head the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Register will replace Vic Reynolds, whom the governor picked to become a superior court judge in Cobb County.
  • Pay cut for Warnock: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is also still the senior pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, received $120,964.59 in salary and benefits for his work in the pulpit in 2021, his first year in office. Most of that, $89,000, was what his reelection campaign calls a “personal parsonage allowance,” housing payments that the Senate Ethics Committee approved. There are rules about how much senators can earn outside their government salary of $174,000 a year. In 2020, Warnock received about $200,000 in pay and benefits from Ebenezer.
  • Quiet, please: U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, introduced a bill to boost funding aimed at reducing aircraft emissions and noise. The legislation would provide $1.5 billion in grant funds over five years for sustainable aviation fuel projects, low-emission aviation technology development and other technology to reduce aircraft fuel burn, emissions and noise.
  • A nod from South Dakota: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker picked up an endorsement from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

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