As Donald Trump braces for yet another criminal indictment, this time in Fulton County, Georgia, even more detail has emerged about efforts by his team and allies to access sensitive voting machine software to prop up the former president’s lies about election fraud.
Fulton County prosecutors have emails and text messages showing Trump’s team was involved in the effort to breach voting machines in Coffee County, Georgia, CNN reported Sunday
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg: In at least three states, Trump’s allies breached voting machines in an effort to pursue conspiracy theories about voter fraud, and the same players have a habit of popping up in different states.
In Colorado, a former Mesa County clerk faces felony charges for allegedly allowing an unauthorized person to gain access to secure areas inside the clerk’s office. Digital images of the county’s election systems were posted online by a major figure in the QAnon conspiracy world shortly after.
In Michigan, three people, including a former Republican nominee for state attorney general, face felony charges over accusations they conspired to illegally access voting machines.
Digital images from voting machines in those states and others have repeatedly been shared online and at in-person events dedicated to “proving” Trump’s election lies.
The Jan. 7, 2021, breach of Coffee County’s voting systems has multiple ties to other efforts around the country to provide fodder for Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.
CNN reported Sunday on messages from an attorney working for Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell ― private attorneys who are both unnamed co-conspirators in the recent federal indictment against Trump for attempting to overturn the election ― inviting several others to examine voting equipment in Coffee County.
And we know that Republican activists did access that equipment: On Jan. 7, surveillance video showed employees of the computer forensics firm SullivanStrickler, which was working under Powell’s direction, accessing the county’s election software. Digital images of the software were subsequently uploaded online and viewed by a number of Republican political operatives and activists.
SullivanStrickler was also engaged to do similar work in Antrim County, Michigan, and in Nevada, according to records obtained by The Washington Post. (The firm has said it had “no reason to believe” the attorneys for whom it had worked would ask it to do something improper.)
In one notable crossover, Jim Penrose, a former National Security Agency official who had been at a planning session soon after the November 2020 election, reportedly asked SullivanStrickler to send the bill for the Coffee County, Georgia, work to Stefanie Lambert, an attorney who now faces four felony charges related to a similar scheme in Michigan.
The state replaced some of Coffee County’s voting equipment. Election security experts urged Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith to investigate. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched a probe into the matter, but as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in April, “so far, everyone involved in the scheme has escaped accountability.” A spokesperson for the GBI told HuffPost that the agency “doesn’t have any new updates to report.” A spokesperson for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said separately that “this investigation has not been absorbed into the Fulton County matter.”
In Michigan, three people face felony charges for allegedly conspiring to improperly access voting equipment: Lambert, former state attorney general nominee Matthew DePerno (R) and former state Rep. Daire Rendon (R). Lambert and DePerno have denied wrongdoing; an attorney for Rendon did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
A year ago, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office requested that a special counsel investigate DePerno, Lambert and Rendon for orchestrating what Nessel’s office called “a coordinated plan to gain access to voting tabulators” from various counties in the state. According to that petition, DePerno was present while others “broke into the tabulators and performed ‘tests’ on the equipment.”
Lambert also has ties to Dar Leaf, the sheriff in Barry County, Michigan. Leaf sent a sheriff’s deputy and private investigator recommended by Lambert from township to township around his county to grill clerks about the 2020 election, leading several clerks to speak out publicly about the visits. Leaf was among those named in the petition from Nessell’s office on the alleged scheme to access voting machines, but he and others mentioned in the document weren’t ultimately charged.
In a related case in April, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the Republican-majority government in its state’s Fulton County in contempt as part of an ongoing saga over a Michigan forensics firm’s improper access to the county’s voting machines. The court criticized Lambert, who represented the county for a time, for not disclosing disciplinary proceedings against her in Michigan that were related to litigation to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
Though only three people ultimately faced charges, Nessel’s office indicated many more were potentially involved, including Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the firm that Arizona Republicans contracted to lead a sham “audit” of the 2020 election results in the Phoenix area. (Logan also visited the office in Coffee County, Georgia, surveillance footage showed, as did Jeffrey Lenberg, another person who the Michigan attorney general’s office said performed “tests” on the voting machines in that state.)
DePerno also worked on a local voter’s lawsuit alleging fraud in Antrim County, Michigan, after a clerk’s quickly resolved error showed the wrong results in the county. As part of that suit, a judge allowed DePerno to make a copy of the county’s voting software. As in Georgia, SullivanStrickler flew in for the job, again under Powell’s authorization.
Though the judge warned against sharing the data publicly, the Antrim County images were shared at a 2021 “Cyber Symposium” hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. Some attendees immediately realized the severity of the situation: “I said, ‘I haven’t seen the Antrim image because I didn’t sign a protective court order to obtain a copy of the image, but I bet they have stolen court evidence here,’” Harri Hursti, a cybersecurity expert who attended the symposium, reflected later that year.
Similar data from Nevada, which, according to The Washington Post, was the scene of another SullivanStrickler arrangement, was also shared at the symposium. But it wasn’t very impressive, as it was apparently recorded from a public Wi-Fi system and didn’t contain any sensitive data, a Clark County spokesperson said. Also in 2021, a breach of a Lake County, Ohio, government office prompted state and federal investigations after data obtained from the office of the president of the county’s board of commissioners was shared at Lindell’s event.
As in Michigan, a former public official is charged in Colorado with allowing improper access to a county’s voting machines.
Tina Peters was accused in an indictment of being part of a “deceptive scheme which was designed to influence public servants, breach security protocols, exceed permissible access to voting equipment, and set in motion the eventual distribution of confidential information to unauthorized people.” Peters has portrayed herself as a martyr, frequently appearing on far-right podcasts to echo Trump’s claims of widespread corruption among voting machine manufacturers and election officials.
Two others have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the case against Peters. As part of the scheme, Peters allegedly directed staff to turn off surveillance videos facing the voting equipment. She also allegedly instructed staff to make a fake government employee ID for an unauthorized person — reportedly the former pro surfer-turned-election conspiracy theorist Conan Hayes — and then allowed that person to be present during a required in-person software update, which granted the person access to the software.
Law enforcement became aware of the scheme after a major QAnon conspiracy theory figure, Ron Watkins, posted information from the voting systems online. This all led to a dramatic moment during Lindell’s Cyber Symposium when Peters announced that investigators had acted upon a search warrant and “raided” her office. At the same symposium, digital images of Mesa County’s voting system were shared with attendees.
Last year, FBI agents seized Lindell’s cellphone as he waited in line at a Hardee’s drive-thru; Lindell subsequently said he’d received a subpoena as part of a federal grand jury’s investigation of the Colorado breach. Lindell sued the Department of Justice over the phone seizure.
Peters pleaded not guilty to election tampering and has successfully sought to delay trial multiple times, though she was convicted of a separate misdemeanor related to her recording a court proceeding.
Peters and others, including former Trump attorney Giuliani, are set to speak at a Lindell-hosted event this week.