Shortly before noon on Jan. 7, 2021, with the nation still reeling from the aftermath of the attempted insurrection in Washington, D.C., a Republican Party official ushers a computer forensics team into an elections office in far-away Coffee County, Georgia.
According to a combination of court filings, depositions in subsequent litigation, and the indictment filed Monday evening in Fulton County, Georgia, the forensics team—a group of employees of an Atlanta-based firm called SullivanStrickler—has driven into the rural south Georgia town of Douglas at the behest of Sidney Powell, a lawyer working with then-President Donald Trump’s legal team. They are joined by a man named Scott Hall, a bail bondsman and Republican poll watcher who flew down separately from Atlanta.
Cathy Latham, a public school teacher and chairwoman of the Coffee County GOP, escorts the group inside. There, they are welcomed by two local elections officials, Misty Hampton and Eric Chaney, and a former member of the elections board, Ed Voyles.
Video surveillance detailed in the litigation shows what happens next: Over the course of several hours, the forensics team handles, scans, and copies the state’s most sensitive voting software and equipment. All of this takes place without authorization from any court of law. The elections board will later claim it did not authorize the entry or copying, which the Georgia secretary of state’s office has referred to as “unauthorized access to the equipment that former Coffee County election officials allowed in violation of state law.”
Days before the forensics team sets foot in Douglas, which is about 130 miles southwest of Savannah, voters had arrived at the elections office to mark their ballots in the state’s runoff election for the U.S. Senate, a race that would tip the balance of power in the upper house of Congress. Two months before that, some 15,000 people flocked to the polls in the rural county, as Joe Biden and Donald Trump battled for the presidency. Later, in a recorded phone call entered as evidence in litigation, Hall will claim that the forensics group “scanned every freaking ballot” cast in those races.
“They scanned all the equipment, imaged all the hard drives, and scanned every single ballot,” he will say in March 2021.
Throughout the month of January 2021, similar breaches occur on at least three other occasions, as additional outsiders are again given access to the state’s voting equipment. Forensic copies are subsequently accessed by more than a dozen individuals across several states, the court records show.
Until Monday, no individual involved in the apparent breach in Coffee County had been held accountable. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) has said that it has been investigating the matter for more than a year, prompting questions about the sluggishness of the investigation. An open records request submitted by Lawfare to Coffee County reveals that the GBI recently seized the desktop computer used by Hampton at the elections office—more than two and a half years after the breach. Meanwhile, at the federal level, there have been no public signs that the Justice Department or the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith has taken any steps to investigate the events in Coffee County, despite calls for them to do so.
A separate open records request submitted by Lawfare returned no responsive documents for subpoenas or other communications between Coffee County elections officials and federal law enforcement authorities. A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Yet, just over 200 miles from Douglas, in Atlanta, one prosecutor has taken a deep interest in the events in Coffee County.
In her sweeping indictment handed up on Monday, the Coffee County breach features prominently throughout. Powell, Latham, Hall, and Hampton are all charged under the mammoth indictment’s racketeering charge, which alleges that “several of the Defendants corruptly conspired … to unlawfully access secure voting equipment and voter data” and “stole data, including ballot images, voting equipment software and personal voter information.” According to the indictment, the “stolen data was then distributed to other members of the enterprise, including members in other states.”
In addition, Powell, Latham, Hall, and Hampton face charges of conspiracy to commit election fraud (Counts 32-33), conspiracy to commit computer theft (Count 34), conspiracy to commit computer trespass (Count 35), conspiracy to commit computer invasion of privacy (Count 36), and conspiracy to defraud the state (Count 37).
The broad outlines, and many of the details, of the events in Coffee County have been reported before, including by CNN, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, 11Alive, and others—all of which have reported on the breach itself and on some of the circumstances surrounding it.
But the account presented in this article—based on public records, depositions, court filings, interviews, internal emails obtained by Lawfare, and the indictment handed up Monday—attempts for the first time to comprehensively detail the extent to which a group of election officials and Republican Party operatives in a small rural county won the ears of the president’s top lawyers and operatives as they sought to discredit the national vote Trump had lost. [Continue reading…]