Georgia is looking into a breach of election data.
The district attorney in Atlanta wants to build a big conspiracy case that includes all the different ways Trump supporters are trying to mess up and change the 2020 election.
The day after Donald J. Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, a small group working for him went to rural Coffee County, Ga., about 200 miles southeast of Atlanta.
Paul Maggio was a part of the group. He was a manager at SullivanStrickler, a company in Atlanta that helps companies analyze and handle their data. Sidney Powell, a lawyer who works for Mr. Trump and believes in conspiracies, hired his company to look into the voting systems in Georgia and other states. It was part of a plan by Trump supporters in a number of swing states to use friendly election administrators to get into and copy sensitive election software.
“We are on our way to Coffee County, Georgia, to get what we can from the voting machines and systems,” Mr. Maggio wrote to Ms. Powell in the morning of Jan. 7, 2021, according to an email exchange that recently came to light in a civil case. A few weeks later, Scott Hall, a bail bondsman from Atlanta who backed Trump and went to Coffee County with the group on a chartered plane, told what they did there.
“We scanned every single ballot,” he said in a March 2021 phone call that was recorded. Mr. Hall said that the local elections board had given the team permission to “scan all the equipment, image all the hard drives, and scan every single ballot.”
This week, court documents showed that the data breach in Coffee County is now part of the huge investigation into election interference that Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, Ga., which includes most of Atlanta, is doing.
Even though Coffee County is not in her area of responsibility, Ms. Willis is trying to build a large conspiracy and racketeering case that includes the many ways Trump supporters are trying to stop Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s legal election. Court records show that on August 16, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation also confirmed that it was working with the office of the Georgia secretary of state to look into the Coffee County data breach. Many of the details of the Coffee County visit were in emails and texts that were found in a lawsuit against Georgia’s secretary of state by voting rights activists. The Washington Post first reported on the breach.
In several swing states, Trump’s allies helped set up similar hacks. This month, Democrat Dana Nessel, who is the attorney general of Michigan, asked for a special prosecutor to look into data breaches in the state. She wants to get out of the case because one of the people who might be involved in the scheme is Matthew DePerno, who is likely to run against her as a Republican.
When asked for a comment, Ms. Powell did not answer right away.
In a statement released by the company’s lawyer, SullivanStrickler said it “has never been part of a ‘pro-Trump team’ or any ‘team’ whose goal is to undermine our democracy.” It also said it was a “politically agnostic” company that was hired to “preserve and forensically copy the Dominion voting machines used in the 2020 election,” the statement said. The statement said that the claim that SullivanStrickler was part of a group that “illegally “breached” servers or other voting equipment was “categorically false.” It also said that the group was hired and led by “licensed, practicing attorneys.”
“The company decided to stop doing any new work on this issue after January 7,” the statement said. “If they could go back in time and know everything they know now, they would never do work like this again.”
Legal experts say that the Fulton County investigation could be especially dangerous for Mr. Trump’s allies and maybe even for Mr. Trump himself. This is because on Jan. 2, 2021, as president, Mr. Trump called Georgia’s secretary of state and asked him to “find” enough votes to help him win the state where he lost the election.
A special grand jury has been set up to look into election meddling in the state. It has already heard from more than 30 witnesses, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, who used to be Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer. At least 18 people, including Mr. Giuliani, have been told by prosecutors that they could be charged in the case.
This week, prosecutors filed court documents that said they wanted to hear from other Trump supporters, like Ms. Powell and Mark Meadows, who was the former chief of staff at the White House. The petition to make Ms. Powell testify says that she worked with SullivanStrickler “to get election data” from Coffee County. It also says, “There is more evidence in the public record that shows the witness was involved in similar efforts in Michigan and Nevada at the same time.”
As a lawyer who helped Mr. Trump after the election, Ms. Powell made a number of false claims about election fraud. For example, she said that Democrats had “developed a computer system to change votes electronically.”
Dominion Voting Systems, the company that makes the voting machines used in Coffee County and the rest of Georgia, has sued Ms. Powell and other people for slander. As part of this lawsuit, Ms. Powell’s lawyers have said that “no reasonable person would think” that some of her more outlandish claims “were really statements of fact.”
Fulton County prosecutors want Ms. Powell to tell the special grand jury what she knows about the case next month. In a court filing this week, they said that she had “unique knowledge” about meetings that took place after the election at the South Carolina plantation of L. Lin Wood, a lawyer who supports Trump and believes in conspiracies. Prosecutors wrote that Mr. Wood said he and other Trump supporters, like Ms. Powell and the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, met at the plantation to talk about “ways to change the results” of the 2020 election “in Georgia and elsewhere,” as Mr. Wood put it.
In a request for Ms. Powell’s testimony filed on Thursday, Ms. Willis’s office mentioned the Coffee County data breach. This was the first time the matter had come up in connection with her investigation. It’s still not clear how much Ms. Willis’s office will look into the Coffee County case or what charges, if any, could come from it.
“The state has many ways to bring criminal charges,” said David D. Cross, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in a long-running lawsuit against the Georgia secretary of state’s office over election security. The lawsuit was brought by civic groups. “There are laws in Georgia that make it hard to get to voting equipment,” he said. “There are also laws that make it hard to get to computer equipment that doesn’t belong to you.”
Nearly 70% of Coffee County, which only has 43,000 people, voted for Mr. Trump. Most likely, Trump officials went after the county’s voting system because the county was run by friendly people who wanted to work together. At the time, Cathy Latham was chair of the local Republican Party. She was also one of 16 fake pro-Trump electors who met at the Georgia State Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, even though Mr. Trump had lost the state. All of them, including Ms. Latham, are on Ms. Willis’s list of people to look into.
The costs of breaches in election security have been high. Antrim County, Michigan, was at the forefront of efforts to overturn the election. On Thursday, Sheryl Guy, the county clerk, said that officials had to rent voting equipment to replace equipment that is being held as evidence in civil litigation.
In Colorado, the secretary of state’s office estimated that taxpayers would have to pay at least $1 million to replace voting equipment in Mesa County after a pro-Trump election supervisor was charged with tampering with the equipment after the 2020 election.
Election experts pointed out that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, said that the safest thing to do with hacked voting machines was to take them out of service.
In an interview on Thursday, Lawrence Norden, senior director of the Elections and Government Program at the Brennan Center, said, “This is happening at an alarming rate.” “When election officials allow or help people who can’t be trusted to get into the system without any oversight, that will make people question whether they can trust these systems.”