Testimony Suggests Trump Was at Meeting About Accessing Voting Software

ATLANTA — Former President Donald J. Trump took part in a discussion about plans to access voting system software in Michigan and Georgia as part of the effort to challenge his 2020 election loss, according to testimony from former Trump advisers. The testimony, delivered to the House Jan. 6 committee, was highlighted on Friday in a letter to federal officials from a liberal-leaning legal advocacy group.

Allies of Mr. Trump ultimately succeeded in copying the elections software in those two states, and the breach of voting data in Georgia is being examined by prosecutors as part of a broader criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump and his allies interfered in the presidential election there. The former president’s participation in the discussion of the Georgia plan could increase his risk of possible legal exposure there.

A number of Trump aides and allies have recounted a lengthy and acrimonious meeting in the Oval Office on Dec. 18, 2020, which one member of the House Jan. 6 committee would later call “the craziest meeting of the Trump presidency.” During the meeting, then-President Trump presided as his advisers argued about whether they should seek to have federal agents seize voting machines to analyze them for fraud.

Testimony to the Jan. 6 committee from one aide who attended the meeting, Derek Lyons, a former White House staff secretary and counselor, was highlighted on Friday in a letter to the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation from Free Speech for People, a liberal nonprofit legal advocacy group. Mr. Lyons recounted that during the meeting, Rudolph W. Giuliani, then Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, opposed seizing voting machines and spoke of how the Trump campaign was instead “going to be able to secure access to voting machines in Georgia through means other than seizure,” and that the access would be “voluntary.”

Other attendees offered similar testimony to the committee, which released its final report on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in late December. Among those involved in the Oval Office discussion were two prominent pro-Trump conspiracy theorists: Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and Sidney Powell, a lawyer who spread numerous falsehoods after the 2020 election and who also discussed Mr. Giuliani’s comments in her testimony.

Fani T. Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., is trying to clarify Mr. Trump’s role in a number of efforts to overturn his November 2020 election loss in Georgia — including the plan to gain access to voting machine data and software — and determine whether to recommend indictments for Mr. Trump or any of his allies for violating state laws.

A spokesman for Ms. Willis’s office declined to comment Friday on Mr. Lyons’s testimony. Marissa Goldberg, an Atlanta-area lawyer representing Mr. Trump in Georgia, did not respond to a request for comment.

In its letter, Free Speech for People argued that the testimony and other details that have been made public prove that Mr. Trump “was, at a minimum, aware” of an “unlawful, multistate plot” to access and copy voting system software. The group urged the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to conduct “a vigorous and swift investigation.”

On Jan. 7, 2021, a small group working on behalf of Mr. Trump traveled to rural Coffee County, Ga., some 200 miles southeast of Atlanta, and gained access to sensitive election data; subsequent visits by pro-Trump figures were captured on video surveillance cameras.

The group’s first visit to Coffee County occurred on the same day that Congress certified President Biden’s victory; the certification had been delayed by the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. The visitors to Coffee County apparently saw it as an ideal place to gather intelligence on what they viewed as voting irregularities: At one point, video footage shows the then-chair of the Coffee County Republican Party, Cathy Latham, appearing to welcome into the building the members of a forensics company hired by Ms. Powell.

Ms. Latham was also one of the 16 pro-Trump fake electors whom Georgia Republicans had assembled in an effort to reverse the election results there.

Text messages from that period indicate that some Trump allies seeking evidence of election fraud had considered other uses for the Coffee County election data and their analyses of it. One cybersecurity consultant aiding in the effort even raised the possibility, in a text message to other Trump allies in mid-January 2021, of using a report on Coffee County election data “to try to decertify” a highly consequential United States Senate runoff election that Democrats had just won in Georgia. CNN reported on the existence of that text message on Friday.

The Trump allies who traveled to Coffee County copied elections software used across the state and uploaded it on the internet, creating the potential for future election manipulation, according to David Cross, a lawyer involved in civil litigation over election security in Georgia filed by the Coalition for Good Governance. The Coffee County data was also used earlier this year in a presentation to conservative activists that included unfounded allegations of electoral fraud, The Los Angeles Times has reported.

Some of those involved with the Coffee County effort came to regret it. A law firm hired by SullivanStrickler, the consulting firm hired by Ms. Powell to help gain access to the county’s voting machines, would later release a statement saying that, “With the benefit of hindsight, and knowing everything they know now, they would not take on any further work of this kind.”

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