GBI report provides new details in Coffee County elections breach

Attorney General Chris Carr could pursue additional charges
GBI agents spent more than a year investigation post-2020 election activities in Coffee County.

GBI agents spent more than a year investigation post-2020 election activities in Coffee County.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated and corrected in a section relating to Atlanta-based data firm SullivanStrickler. The original story incorrectly described the GBI report’s contents relating to the firm.

When Fulton County prosecutors announced racketeering charges against Donald Trump and 18 others in August, they said a data breach in Coffee County was part of their alleged criminal enterprise to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election.

But they weren’t the only ones investigating election interference in that rural community. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation had been looking into the activities of Trump allies there for over a year.

One week after Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis obtained her indictment, the GBI provided a nearly 400-page report to state Attorney General Chris Carr, who could seek additional charges.

The report, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, provides additional details about the alleged scheme in southeast Georgia to copy elections software, distribute the sensitive data to conspiracy theorists and undermine the legitimacy of the state’s 2020 results.

Carr, a Republican, has been reviewing the report since it was completed two months ago. His office said Monday it will “continue to coordinate” with the GBI and declined further comment.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023. Carr is reviewing a report from the GBI on election interference in Coffee County (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Willis charged four defendants with conspiring to swipe data “including ballot images, voting equipment software and personal voter information” in Coffee County on Jan. 7, 2021 — the day after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to block formal confirmation of Democrat Joe Biden’s election win.

The GBI’s review offers clues about how two of those defendants — Scott Hall and Sidney Powell — could help prosecutors after they pleaded guilty to lesser charges and agreed to help Willis. Two others, GOP activist Cathy Latham and Coffee County elections supervisor Misty Hampton, have pleaded not guilty.

Here are some of the key details in the 392-page report:

How it started

In December 2020, Atlanta attorney Preston Haliburton, who said he was investigating allegations of voting fraud, asked Hampton for copies of absentee ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election.

“I do not see any problem assisting you with anything y’all need (in) accordance to Georgia law. Y’all are welcome in our office anytime,” Hampton said, according to the GBI report.

Hampton’s response was construed as a “written invitation” for computer analysts who were paid $26,000 by Powell’s nonprofit organization to copy election files, according to the GBI investigation.

The next month, several technicians and election conspiracists traveled to Coffee County to copy election files, including the software for Georgia’s statewide Dominion voting equipment.

Analysts from SullivanStrickler made copies of the data. Hampton, who is required by state law to protect Georgia’s election equipment and records, is facing several charges related to the incident.

“Huge things starting to come together! Most immediately, we were just granted access -by written invitation! — to the Coffee County systems. Yay!” said Katherine Friess, an attorney for Donald Trump, in a text message sent to the analysts.

The Coffee County scheme first came to light as a result of evidence disclosed in an ongoing election security lawsuit against the state by the Coalition for Good Governance. Much of the GBI report relied on records disclosed through the lawsuit, led by the organization’s executive director, Marilyn Marks.

A ‘hub for voter fraud’

A pro-Trump lawyer who had gained an immense social media following, Lin Wood was one of the most prominent attorneys working to overturn Trump’s defeat.

The GBI report reveals that in November 2020, Powell traveled to Wood’s Tomotley Plantation in South Carolina for a meeting “regarding election integrity efforts.”

They were joined there by Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser; Jim Penrose, a former national security analyst; and Doug Logan, the chief executive of an election auditing firm that led a controversial Republican ballot review in Arizona after the 2020 vote.

11/06/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — Attorney L. Lin Wood makes remarks during a GOP elections briefing at the Georgia Republican headquarters in Atlanta’s Buckhead community, Friday, November 6, 2020. Wood has represented Richard Jewell, Herman Cain, JonBenet Ramsey, Kobe Bryant and U.S. Rep. Gary Condit. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

Investigators described the sprawling property as the “central hub for voter fraud information processing.” It was decided at that meeting that the SullivanStrickler data firm would capture forensic images of voting machines to support their litigation — and that Powell would pay for it.

The report also highlighted a July 2021 campaign event at Wood’s plantation for Kandiss Taylor, the far-right Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Brian Kemp in last year’s GOP primary and then refused to concede her defeat.

Among the roughly 125 people at Tomotley for the event were Powell and Latham, who investigators said was there as a representative of the state GOP, according to the GBI. Wood wasn’t charged with any wrongdoing, though he later gave up his law license as he faced possible disbarment. Prosecutors have also said they may call on Wood to testify in criminal proceedings.

An immunity deal?

When a GBI special agent first contacted Hampton in August 2022, her attorney Jonathan Miller told him she would “cooperate and interview with him” if she was granted immunity. Miller was quickly told an immunity deal wouldn’t be given.

That’s when Miller said he wanted to hear from the local district attorney. He was told to speak with one of Carr’s deputies. Two days later, Hampton’s attorney thanked the agent in a text for setting up the discussion.

“Maybe we can work that out at a future time,” said Miller, who didn’t immediately comment on Monday.

Hampton said in a deposition she was authorized by former Coffee County elections board member Eric Chaney to allow SullivanStrickler to “do their work.” Chaney hasn’t been charged.

Unindicted co-conspirators

While Willis charged four people linked to the Coffee County breach, the GBI report details the involvement of several unindicted co-conspirators who were mentioned by number in the Fulton County indictment but not charged with any wrongdoing.

They include Doug Logan, the former CEO of CyberNinjas who conducted a ballot review in Arizona and traveled to Coffee County after SullivanStrickler; and Jeff Lenberg, a former National Nuclear Security Administration employee who also visited Coffee County, according to the GBI report.

Aerial photograph shows downtown Douglas in Coffee County, Saturday, August 19, 2023. The alleged conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 presidential election stretched from Donald Trump’s lawyers in Washington to his sympathizers in South Georgia’s Coffee County, resulting in charges against four of those involving the tampering of voting software and ballots. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

In addition, the report names other unindicted co-conspirators Phil Waldron, a former Army colonel who gained access to voting systems in Antrim County, Michigan, in late 2020; Alex Cruce, a man “who could not believe that former President Donald Trump did not win” and traveled to Coffee County; Robert Sinners, a Trump campaign official who allegedly shared contact information of those involved; Todd Sanders, who accessed election files distributed from Coffee County; and Conan Hayes, who also downloaded the data.

SullivanStrickler’s role

Employees of the Atlanta-based data firm SullivanStrickler copied election files in both Michigan and Georgia under an agreement with attorneys supporting the Trump campaign. An attorney for the company has said it is nonpartisan, and it believed its work was allowed and legal.

Exterior view of the Fulton County Courthouse on Sept. 5, 2023, in Atlanta, Georgia. Former U.S. President Donald Trump has entered a not-guilty plea and waived his right to appear later this week at an arraignment hearing. Trump and his 18 co-defendants are charged in a 41-count indictment accusing them of scheming to overturn Georgia's 2020 presidential election results. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

According to the GBI report’s summary of an interview with State Election Board Chairman William Duffey Jr., the chief operating officer of SullivanStrickler, Paul Maggio, “reached out to Donald Trump’s attorney, Sidney Powell, about assisting in finding forensic evidence of election fraud during the 2020 presidential election.”

But the company’s attorney said SullivanStrickler was approached to do the work and not the other way around. “They were hired to create forensic images and offered nothing more,” said Amanda Clark Palmer.

Although it was not cited in the GBI report, The New Yorker has reported that Greg Freemyer, the company’s director of forensics and disputes, raised doubts about the accuracy of election results on the online forum Quora.

Responding to a question about why it took several days to count the presidential election results, Freemyer wrote: “Quality fraud takes time.”

Pro-Trump advocates had interest beyond Coffee County

Lenberg, now a New Mexico-based consultant who visited the Coffee County office, told investigators he also traveled to nearby Pierce County but didn’t investigate any voting equipment and didn’t obtain any data.

He also said he submitted records requests for information in Liberty and Pierce counties; he never received a response from Pierce County but eventually received elections data from Liberty County.

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Credit: TNS

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