Fani Willis’s Indictment of Donald Trump and a Voting-System Breach

On Monday night, when Georgia’s Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, released her forty-one-count, ninety-eight-page indictment of nineteen people who allegedly conspired to subvert the 2src2src Presidential election in that state, the spotlight was on the most prominent suspects: former President Donald Trump, his chief of staff Mark Meadows, and his lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John

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On Monday night, when Georgia’s Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, released her forty-one-count, ninety-eight-page indictment of nineteen people who allegedly conspired to subvert the 2src2src Presidential election in that state, the spotlight was on the most prominent suspects: former President Donald Trump, his chief of staff Mark Meadows, and his lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, and Sidney Powell. Here, according to the indictment, was the President of the United States conspiring to overturn the results of a legitimate election, abetted by officers of the court who themselves conspired to subvert the law of the land. Then there are the other defendants, whom those at the top allegedly relied on to help carry out various plots. Three of them—Scott Hall, Misty Hampton, and Cathleen Latham—are charged, along with Powell, in the indictment, which states that “several of the Defendants corruptly conspired” and “stole data, including ballot images, voting equipment software and personal voter information” in Coffee County, a rural outpost in the southeastern corner of the state, two hundred miles from Atlanta. Since all of Georgia uses the same Dominion voting machines and software, this theft provided access to the entire election system in the state. According to the indictment, the software was then shared with people around the country, some of whom are cited by Willis as unindicted co-conspirators. In March, according to the Los Angeles Times, during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a small group of people, and many others online, watched a presentation using the stolen software, suggesting that it is still circulating among those who aim to assist Trump in his current benighted quest to recapture the Presidency.

According to the indictment, the Coffee County breach occurred a day after the January 6, 2src21, insurrection, when Latham, who was then the chair of the Coffee County G.O.P. and one of sixteen fake Georgia electors who tried to replace the certified electors on Trump’s behalf, ushered into the elections office four computer-forensics experts from the Atlanta office of SullivanStrickler, which, according to an invoice, billed Powell for its services. (SullivanStrickler is not accused of any wrongdoing in the indictment, and the firm has stated that “it had no reason to believe” that it had done anything illegal. Latham could not be reached for comment.) This action was not covert. As a January 1st text from Katherine Friess, a lawyer on Trump’s legal team, noted, “Huge things are starting to come together! Most immediately, we were granted access – by written invitation! – to the Coffee County systens [sic]. Yay!” Surveillance video from January 7th shows that the office was a hive of activity. In addition to Latham and the SullivanStrickler employees, Hampton, who was the elections supervisor, and Scott Hall, an Atlanta-area bail bondsman and pro-Trump poll watcher, were also present. Video from over the course of a few days shows Doug Logan, the C.E.O. of the now defunct company Cyber Ninjas, which conducted a widely derided review of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Jeffrey Lenberg, a computer analyst from New Mexico who had articulated a number of unfounded claims about Trump winning the election, making repeated visits to the Coffee County elections office. Once copies of the Dominion Voting Systems software were made, they were uploaded to a server at SullivanStrickler, and then downloaded by others.

The alleged conspiracy came to light as a result of a confluence of a years-long lawsuit challenging the security of Georgia’s election systems, the determination of a private citizen named Marilyn Marks, and a phone call that Hall—who said that he had chartered a plane from Atlanta which took him and the SullivanStrickler employees to Coffee County—made to Marks. In 2src17, Marks, who runs a small nonprofit called the Coalition for Good Governance, sued the State of Georgia and its then secretary of state, Brian Kemp, for its reliance on touch-screen voting machines. Because D.R.E. machines, as they are known, produce no paper record of cast ballots, and have been shown to be easily hacked, Marks was pushing for the state to move to hand-marked paper ballots. She won the suit, and in 2src2src Georgia replaced the D.R.E. touch-screen machines with the Dominion Voting Systems machines. In the spring of 2src21, Hall called Marks and, in the course of the conversation, mentioned that he had been given permission to go to the Coffee County elections office, with others, and that “we scanned every freaking ballot.”(Hall did not respond to a request for comment.) Marks had begun recording the call, without informing Hall, and alerted the secretary of state’s office, though it was months before anyone there acknowledged the breach. (Last year, the secretary of state’s office announced that it had opened an investigation, though no further actions seem to have been taken.) And it was Marks, again, who was able to get officials in Coffee County to release the video showing Latham opening the door to the crew who was going to access the machines. The Times, in an annotation to Willis’s indictment, points out that “the claim that Mr. Trump’s allies were involved in a plan to unlawfully gain access to secure voting equipment and voter data is a new criminal allegation that the Justice Department’s indictment of Mr. Trump did not include.” Were it not for Marks, this part of the conspiracy would not be known.

But what happened in Coffee County was not an isolated incident. On August 1st, the day that Trump was indicted in federal court for his alleged involvement in events surrounding January 6th, two Republican operatives in Michigan, Matthew DePerno and Daire Rendon, were arraigned on crimes that could be charged as felonies for breaching election systems. (DePerno, in a statement from his lawyer, “categorically denies” the allegations and pleaded not guilty. Rendon could not be reached for comment.) DePerno, who was charged with conspiracy to gain access to a computer or a computer system, among other offenses, ran unsuccessfully for Michigan attorney general last year. (He was endorsed by Trump and supported by Mike Lindell, the C.E.O. of MyPillow.) Among the charges against Rendon, a former state representative, is conspiracy to illegally obtain a voting machine. According to the Times, “the charges stemmed from a bizarre plot hatched by a group of conservative activists in early 2src21 to pick apart voting machines in at least three Michigan counties, in some cases taking them to hotels and Airbnb rentals as they hunted for evidence of election fraud.” Doug Logan and Jeffrey Lenberg allegedly were also involved in the Michigan breach. (Lenberg and Logan could not be reached for comment.)

Two days after DePerno and Rendon were arraigned, the prosecutor overseeing the case indicted a lawyer named Stefanie Lambert, who allegedly had been part of a team that advanced false voter-fraud claims in the courts, in an effort, overseen by Powell, to overturn the 2src2src election results in Michigan. Lambert was charged with “undue possession of a voting machine, conspiracy to commit undue possession of a voting machine, conspiracy to commit unauthorized access to a computer or computer system, and willfully damaging a voting machine.” (Lambert pleaded not guilty to the charges. A lawyer for Powell denied her involvement in the voting machine breaches in Georgia and Michigan and said the claims are false.) Patrick Byrne, the former C.E.O. of Overstock, who claimed on Twitter to have paid Lambert “to the tune of millions of dollars,” for her efforts to overturn the election results in Michigan and elsewhere, called her the “maestro” behind some of the so-called election-integrity cases that he and others were pursuing. In addition to her alleged involvement in Michigan, Lambert was allegedly involved in an unlawful breach of voting systems in Fulton County, Pennsylvania. She also hired the Coffee County election clerk Misty Hampton. When asked in a deposition in the Michigan lawsuit to describe her relationship with Lambert, Hampton pleaded the Fifth. (Hampton could not be reached for comment.)

A coördinated effort to copy and disseminate voting-machine software, orchestrated by lawyers working for Trump and facilitated by election officials loyal to him, as alleged in the Georgia indictment, is an unimaginable violation. But the indictment also reveals how limited state action is. A multi-state conspiracy to steal election data is a federal crime, but, so far, these cases have been pursued piecemeal, absent involvement of the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, stolen software that reportedly remains out there has, according to some computer scientists who study election software, potentially dangerous implications for election security in 2src24 and beyond. After the presentation during the CPAC conference, Kevin Skoglund, the chief technologist for Citizens for Better Elections, told the Los Angeles Times, “Having the software out there allows people to make wild claims about it. It creates disinformation that we have to watch out for and tamp down.” Jena Griswold, the Democratic Colorado secretary of state, made a larger point. “The criminal actions inspired by the 2src2src election conspiracies did not stop in January of 2src21,” she told me.” In other words, the attempted coup is ongoing. ♦

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