03:28 - Source: CNN
'Here's the plan': See Trump operatives' texts about breached data
CNN  — 

In mid-January 2021, two men hired by former President Donald Trump’s legal team discussed over text message what to do with data obtained from a breached voting machine in a rural county in Georgia, including whether to use it as part of an attempt to decertify the state’s pending Senate runoff results.

The texts, sent two weeks after operatives breached a voting machine in Coffee County, Georgia, reveal for the first time that Trump allies considered using voting data not only to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, but also in an effort to keep a Republican hold on the US Senate. 

“Here’s the plan. Let’s keep this close hold,” Jim Penrose, a former NSA official working with Trump lawyer Sidney Powell to access voting machines in Georgia, wrote in a January 19 text to Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, a firm that purports to run audits of voting systems.

In the text, which was obtained by CNN and has not been previously reported, Penrose references the upcoming certification of Democrat Jon Ossoff’s win over Republican David Perdue.

“We only have until Saturday to decide if we are going to use this report to try to decertify the Senate run-off election or if we hold it for a bigger moment,” Penrose wrote, referring to a potential lawsuit.

The plot to breach voting systems in Coffee County, coordinated by members of Trump’s legal team including Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, is part of a broader criminal investigation into 2020 election interference led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

Willis’ office is weighing a potential racketeering case against multiple defendants and is actively deciding who to bring charges against, sources tell CNN. Willis has subpoenaed a number of individuals involved in the Coffee County breach, including the two men who carried it out who were in touch with Penrose and Logan.

Willis has also subpoenaed Giuliani and Powell as part of her probe. Giuliani has been told he’s a target in the Fulton County probe, CNN previously reported. The special grand jury convened for the case recommended issuing multiple indictments in its final report completed in February, according to the jury foreperson.    

A source familiar with Willis’ investigation tells CNN that Willis and her team have in their possession evidence that Trump allies planned to use the breached voting data from Georgia to try to decertify the state’s senate runoff election. Emails obtained by CNN show Penrose and Powell arranged upfront payment to a cyber forensics firm that sent a team to Coffee County on January 7, 2021.

The Coffee County breach is also under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Special Counsel Jack Smith also appears to be examining the broader effort to breach or seize voting machines as part of his federal probe into efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. It’s unclear what if any evidence he has in his possession related to the Coffee County breach. 

Penrose and Logan were also named in a state-level criminal investigation in Michigan alleging they participated in a conspiracy to seize voting machines there.

An attorney for Giuliani declined to comment and referred CNN to his January 6 committee interview transcript.

Powell, Penrose and Logan did not respond to requests for comment.

A breached voting machine in Georgia

On January 7, 2021, the day after rioters stormed the US Capitol, two people walked into an elections office in Coffee County, Georgia, a rural part of the state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2020. A local election official helped them gain access to sensitive voting data which they downloaded onto a portable hard drive.    

That data was then uploaded to an encrypted server and shared with several Trump allies and operatives, including Logan, Penrose, Powell and Giuliani, according to access logs reviewed by CNN and testimony released by the January 6 committee.

Last year, a former Trump official testified under oath to the House January 6 committee that plans to access voting systems in Georgia were discussed in meetings at the White House, including during a now infamous Oval Office meeting on December 18, 2020,  that included Trump. 

Derek Lyons, a former deputy White House counsel who was in that meeting, testified to the January 6 committee that Giuliani suggested accessing voting machines in Georgia as an alternative to ordering the military or Department of Homeland Security to seize voting machines.  

“His point of view was that in some way the campaign, I believe, was going to be able to secure access to voting machines in Georgia through means other than seizure,” Lyons said about Giuliani, according to a transcript of his deposition. 

Lyons told the committee that Giuliani suggested the access would be “voluntary” and examination of those machines would “begin to show evidence of the allegations that were being made.”

“That evidence could then be leveraged to … gain access to additional machines,” Lyons said. “Georgia was the topic of discussion at that time.”  

There is no evidence that the Coffee County voting data was used as part of a lawsuit to try to decertify the Senate runoff results. But the fact that the data has yet to be recovered has raised concerns among election security advocates about how it could be used potentially to disrupt future election results.  

In a December 2022 letter to the FBI, Susan Greenhalgh, a senior advisor for election security at the advocacy group Free Speech For People, described how copies of the voting data from Coffee County have been “shared covertly with an unknown number of election deniers.” The letter warned that the data “could be used to sow distrust in elections, fabricate evidence to challenge legitimate election results, or even to manipulate election results in the future.”

Greenhalgh is among those involved in a civil case focused on election security in Georgia. She has asked the FBI and Smith’s team to investigate the Coffee County breach as recently as this week.

Wider efforts

In their hunt for evidence to support their baseless claims of voter fraud, after the 2020 election Trump allies hired a little-known Texas-based security company called Allied Security Operations Group to investigate alleged voting machine irregularities in a handful of swing states that Trump lost, including Michigan, Arizona and Georgia. 

A few weeks before the Coffee County breach, in late December 2020, Trump allies were granted access to voting machines in Antrim County, Michigan, a county of roughly 24,000 people where Trump won 61% of the vote. 

The team then took that data and with the help of ASOG, produced a report alleging Dominion Voting Systems vulnerabilities. That report, which has since been widely debunked, formed the basis of a lawsuit filed by Powell in December 2020 challenging the election results in Michigan. That suit was one of more than 60 suits filed by Trump’s legal team challenging the election results that were roundly rejected in courts across the country. 

Still, Logan and Penrose, who were part of the team that produced the Antrim County report, considered using the Coffee County data in a similar way to challenge the Georgia Senate runoff. In their texts from January 19, the two men planned to create a report with the help of ASOG’s top lawyer, a man named Charles Bundren, who was deeply involved in earlier efforts to gain access to voting systems. 

“If you can draft a report for review on Friday morning with Charles Bundren, that would be best,” Penrose wrote to Logan as part of the January 19 text message. 

Bundren was part of the team enlisted by Trump’s lawyers to find evidence of widespread voter fraud after the 2020 election. Bundren helped oversee the multi-state push to access voting machines on behalf of the Trump legal team, according to several documents obtained by CNN. 

Bundren also had a hands-on-role developing some of the most extreme options considered by Trump’s inner circle, including helping draft executive orders in December 2020 directing the military and DHS to seize voting machines, according to a source with direct knowledge of Bundren’s role in the plan. The orders were never signed by Trump. 

Even after the report from Antrim County, Michigan was repeatedly debunked by local, state and federal officials, high-level Trump allies including Giuliani and Powell specifically recommended to legislators around the country that they should hire ASOG to conduct an audit of their 2020 election results. 

That was true in Pennsylvania where Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano, one of Trump’s more reliable advocates for overturning the 2020 election results, urged county officials in his state  to not only initiate an outside audit but hire ASOG to carry it out, according to a letter obtained by CNN. 

In Arizona, state Republican officials initially  attempted to hire ASOG to carry out the partisan audit in Maricopa County but ultimately chose Logan’s Cyber Ninja’s instead due to public scrutiny over the Antrim report. 

But Bundren remained intimately involved in that process and coordinated directly with GOP officials overseeing  the sham audit. His ASOG associates even recommending Logan for the job once it was clear they could not be hired. 

Bundren and other ASOG employees also  quietly participated in the audit itself after they were hired as subcontractors working under companies with different names, text messages and other documents obtained by the group American Oversight and shared with CNN show. 

On all fronts, Bundren worked closely with fellow ASOG member Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel who was part of Giuliani’s team that was investigating allegations of voter fraud following the 2020 election and was central to the broader effort to access voting machines in key swing states. 

Logan testified in the Georgia court case that he did produce a report on the Coffee County data for Bundren and it appears to have made its way to Giuliani, who told the House January 6 committee that his team got access to voting machines in Coffee County, according to a transcript of his testimony released by the panel. 

Asked if someone gained access to machines in Coffee County and provided him with a report, Giuliani told the House committee, “yes,” recalling that individual was Waldron.
Bundren and Waldron did not respond to requests for comment.

CNN’s Sara Murray, Jason Morris and Paula Reid contributed reporting