Confidential election files copied by Atlanta tech firm

SullivanStrickler, an IT firm based in Atlanta, says it did nothing wrong
Trump attorney Sidney Powell promised to "release the kraken" of election fraud claims during a December 2020 announcement with other Trump attorneys such as Rudy Giuliani, left, and Jenna Ellis, right.

Trump attorney Sidney Powell promised to "release the kraken" of election fraud claims during a December 2020 announcement with other Trump attorneys such as Rudy Giuliani, left, and Jenna Ellis, right.

The Atlanta-based tech firm SullivanStrickler says it had “no reason to believe” there was anything illegal about sending four of its employees to a South Georgia county to copy every election file they could find: memory cards that store votes, ballot scanners, and an election server.

The company asserted this week it was doing legitimate work in January 2021 at the behest of Sidney Powell, an attorney for then-President Donald Trump who had promised on national TV to “unleash the kraken” of claims that the presidential election was rigged.

But SullivanStrickler hasn’t explained its justification for copying confidential data, besides a statement that the firm was preserving election records under Powell’s direction. The company then distributed the data to election deniers and billed Powell $26,000 for the job. The GBI recently opened a criminal investigation of computer trespass, which is a felony.

The sensitive election data collected by SullivanStrickler, which also gathered election files in Antrim County, Michigan, soon reached the hands of conspiracy theorists who were seeking to reverse the outcome of the election that Trump lost.

The files from Georgia or Michigan were downloaded by individuals such as a Texas meteorologist who promoted election falsehoods on social media, a former pro surfer who alleged the election was manipulated, and a right-wing podcaster, The Washington Post reported Monday.

“SullivanStrickler was retained by and took direction from licensed, practicing attorneys to preserve and forensically copy the Dominion Voting Machines used in the 2020 election. The firm had no reason to believe that, as officers of the court, these attorneys would ask or direct SullivanStrickler to do anything improper or illegal,” Amanda Clark Palmer, an attorney representing the company, said in an email.

The SullivanStrickler employees were joined in Coffee County, located 200 miles south of Atlanta, by several Trump supporters and election skeptics.

Subpoenaed records show involvement by county election board member Eric Chaney, former Coffee County Election Director Misty Hampton and former county Republican Party Chairwoman Cathy Latham, who attempted to cast Georgia’s Electoral College votes for Trump as a fake elector for the Georgia Republican Party on Dec. 14, 2020.

Election integrity advocates say copying confidential election files increases the risk of malware or hacks that could attempt to manipulate future elections.

“Having this material is so vital to being able to craft manipulations, to be able to create hacks,” said Kevin Skoglund, a cybersecurity expert working for plaintiffs in an election security lawsuit that includes the Coffee County allegations. “The person in the basement has the ability to get this software and analyze it and look for vulnerabilities.”

Paul Maggio, chief operating officer for SullivanStrickler, confirmed the election data collection in Coffee County in an email to Powell that was included in subpoenaed documents.

“We are on our way to Coffee County Georgia to collect what we can from the Election / Voting machines and systems. As per our existing agreement, I am attaching the invoice for our initial retainer,” Maggio wrote in an email to Powell on Jan. 7, 2021.

SullivanStrickler, founded in 2013, specialized in computer forensics, e-discovery and data restoration before it became a go-to company for Trump supporters seeking to collect election records.

Coffee County officials gave SullivanStrickler access to its election office, which was supposed to be kept secure, one month after the county had reported a discrepancy of 50 votes during a recount of the presidential election. The dispute over the vote count fueled suspicions of Dominion Voting Systems, but state election officials said the results were accurate.

Coffee County backed Trump in the 2020 election, where he won 70% of the vote. Democrat Joe Biden won Georgia by less than 12,000 votes, a result that has been upheld by recounts, court cases and investigations.

Dominion is now seeking $1.6 billion in a defamation lawsuit against Fox News over unfounded claims about its voting equipment.

“Dominion will not provide commentary regarding ongoing investigations. What is important is that nearly two years after the 2020 election, no credible evidence has ever been presented to any court or authority that voting machines did anything other than count votes accurately and reliably in all states,” Dominion said in a statement. “Our customers’ certified systems remain secure.”

The latest revelations about election files copied in Coffee County come as a result of subpoenas issued in an ongoing federal lawsuit over Georgia’s voting system led by the Coalition for Good Governance, an election security organization.

The plaintiffs don’t claim that elections have been manipulated in Georgia, but they say the state’s voting system is vulnerable to tampering in future elections. They’re asking a federal judge to order Georgia to switch to paper ballots filled out by hand rather than the Dominion system, which uses touchscreens to print out paper ballots.

A report by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency released in June said that voting touchscreens used in Georgia have several security weaknesses, but there’s no evidence they’ve been exploited so far.

Georgia’s voting equipment remains secure, said Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

“Every precinct in every county has procedural and operational integrity measures in place to ensure that only registered Georgia voters have access to those machines to ensure the accuracy of Georgia’s elections,” Hassinger said.

Clark Palmer, the attorney representing SullivanStrickler, said the company’s work was “politically agnostic” — despite the fact that it was done for a group of Republicans trying to disprove that Trump lost the election — and didn’t include any analysis. She said the purpose of the firm’s work was to preserve election data.

“With the benefit of hindsight, and knowing everything they know now, they would not take on any further work of this kind,” Clark Palmer said.

Staff writer J.D. Capelouto contributed to this article.