Georgia prosecutors have messages showing Trump’s team is behind voting system breach
(CNN) — Atlanta-area prosecutors investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia are in possession of text messages and emails directly connecting members of Donald Trump’s legal team to the early January 2021 voting system breach in Coffee County, sources tell CNN.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is expected to seek charges against more than a dozen individuals when her team presents its case before a grand jury next week. Several individuals involved in the voting systems breach in Coffee County are among those who may face charges in the sprawling criminal probe.
Investigators in the Georgia criminal probe have long suspected the breach was not an organic effort sprung from sympathetic Trump supporters in rural and heavily Republican Coffee County – a county Trump won by nearly 70% of the vote. They have gathered evidence indicating it was a top-down push by Trump’s team to access sensitive voting software, according to people familiar with the situation.
Trump allies attempted to access voting systems after the 2020 election as part of the broader push to produce evidence that could back up the former president’s baseless claims of widespread fraud.
While Trump’s January 2021 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and effort to put forward fake slates of electors have long been considered key pillars of Willis’ criminal probe, the voting system breach in Coffee County quietly emerged as an area of focus for investigators roughly one year ago. Since then, new evidence has slowly been uncovered about the role of Trump’s attorneys, the operatives they hired and how the breach, as well as others like it in other key states, factored into broader plans for overturning the election.
Together, the text messages and other court documents show how Trump lawyers and a group of hired operatives sought to access Coffee County’s voting systems in the days before January 6, 2021, as the former president’s allies continued a desperate hunt for any evidence of widespread fraud they could use to delay certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Last year, a former Trump official testified under oath to the House January 6 select committee that plans to access voting systems in Georgia were discussed in meetings at the White House, including during an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 18, 2020, that included Trump.
Six days before pro-Trump operatives gained unauthorized access to voting systems, the local elections official who allegedly helped facilitate the breach sent a “written invitation” to attorneys working for Trump, according to text messages obtained by CNN.
That includes these text messages and others like it that were originally unearthed as part of a long-running civil suit focused on election security in Georgia.
Investigators have scrutinized the actions of various individuals who were involved, including Misty Hampton, a former Coffee County elections official who authored the letter of invitation referenced in text messages and other documents that have been turned over to prosecutors, multiple sources told CNN.
They have also examined the involvement of Trump’s then-attorney Rudy Giuliani – who was informed last year he was a target in the Fulton County investigation – and fellow Trump lawyer Sidney Powell as part of their probe, according to people familiar with the matter.
A spokesperson for Willis’ office declined to comment.
The letter of invitation was shared with attorneys and an investigator working with Giuliani at the time, the text messages obtained by CNN show.
A ‘written invitation’ to access voting systems
On Jan. 1, 2021 – days ahead of the Jan. 7 voting systems breach – Katherine Friess, an attorney working with Giuliani, Sidney Powell and other Trump allies, shared a “written invitation” to examine voting systems in Coffee County with a group of Trump allies.
That group included members of Sullivan Strickler, a firm hired by Trump’s attorneys to examine voting systems in the small, heavily Republican Georgia county, according to text messages obtained by CNN.
That same day, Friess sent a “Letter of invitation to Coffee County, Georgia” to former NYPD Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, who was working with Giuliani to find evidence that would back up their baseless claims of potential widespread voter fraud, according to court documents filed as part of an ongoing civil case.
Friess then notified operatives who carried out the Coffee County breach and others working directly with Giuliani that Trump’s team had secured written permission, the texts show.
CNN has not reviewed the substance of the invitation letter itself, only communications that confirm it was provided to Friess, Kerik and Sullivan Strickler employees.
In a statement provided to CNN after the story published, an attorney for Sullivan Strickler said the firm “is not and has never been part of a ‘Pro-Trump team’ or any ‘team’ whose goal is to undermine our democracy through lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.”
“The firm’s work is politically agnostic,” Amanda Clark-Palmer, the attorney for Sullivan Strickler, added.
Friess could not be reached for comment.
The messages and documents appear to link Giuliani to the Coffee County breach, while shedding light on another channel of communication between pro-Trump attorneys and the battleground state operatives who worked together to provide unauthorized individuals access to sensitive voting equipment.
“Rudy Giuliani had nothing to do with this,” said Robert Costello, Giuliani’s attorney. “You can’t attach Rudy Giuliani to Sidney Powell’s crackpot idea.”
“Just landed back in DC with the Mayor huge things starting to come together!” an employee from the firm Sullivan Strickler, which was hired by Sidney Powell to examine voting systems in Coffee County, wrote in a group chat with other colleagues on Jan. 1.
Former New York Mayor Giuliani was consistently referred to as “the Mayor,” in other texts sent by the same individual and others at the time.
“Most immediately, we were just granted access – by written invitation! – to Coffee County’s systems. Yay!” the text reads.
Breaking into Coffee County
Shortly after Election Day, Hampton – still serving as the top election official for Coffee County – warned during a state election board meeting that Dominion voting machines could “very easily” be manipulated to flip votes from one candidate to another. It’s a claim that has been repeatedly debunked.
But the Trump campaign officials took notice and reached out to Hampton that same day. “I would like to obtain as much information as possible,” a Trump campaign staffer emailed Hampton at the time, according to documents released as part of a public records request and first reported by the Washington Post.
In early December, Hampton then delayed certification of Joe Biden’s win in Georgia by refusing to validate the recount results by a key deadline. Coffee County was the only county in Georgia that failed to certify its election results due to issues raised by Hampton at the time.
Hampton also posted a video online claiming to expose problems with the county’s Dominion voting system. That video was used by Trump’s lawyers, including Giuliani, as part of their push to convince legislators from multiple states that there was evidence the 2020 election results were tainted by voting system issues.
Text messages and other documents obtained by CNN show Trump allies were seeking access to Coffee County’s voting system by mid-December amid increasing demands for proof of widespread election fraud.
Coffee County was specifically cited in draft executive orders for seizing voting machines that were presented to Trump on Dec. 18, 2020, during a chaotic Oval Office meeting, CNN has reported. During that same meeting, Giuliani alluded to a plan to gain “voluntary access” to machines in Georgia, according to testimony from him and others before the House January 6 committee.
Days later, Hampton shared the written invitation to access the county’s election office with a Trump lawyer, text messages obtained by CNN show. She and another location elections official, Cathy Latham, allegedly helped Trump operatives gain access to the county’s voting systems, according to documents, testimony and surveillance video produced as part of a long-running civil lawsuit focused on election security in Georgia.
Latham, who also served as a fake elector from Georgia after the 2020 election, has come under scrutiny for her role in the Coffee County breach after surveillance video showed she allowed unauthorized outsiders to spend hours examining voting systems there.