Last Tuesday, just hours before the indictment of former President Trump for his efforts to overturn his election loss, another set of criminal charges related to post-2020 election denial were handed down in Michigan.
Two allies of the former president — attorney Matthew DePerno and former state Rep. Daire Rendon — were charged in connection with a plan to illegally access and tamper with voting machines. Later in the week, attorney Stefanie Lambert became the third and final individual to be charged for her alleged role in the conspiracy. That alleged scheme was one of several efforts following the 2020 election in which supporters of the former president sought to bolster his lies about voter fraud, from setting up partisan “audits” like the one in Arizona to coordinating unauthorized access to sensitive voting equipment.
Text messages from 2021, obtained by American Oversight, not only reveal discussion of the Michigan scheme among prominent election deniers, including Lambert; they also are yet another piece of evidence of how several of the same activists behind those efforts worked closely together across state lines to undermine trust in the election’s results.
In August of last year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel launched an investigation of an alleged scheme that took place in early 2021 in which conservative activists got a hold of vote tabulators from three counties, running “tests” on the machines in a bid to find proof of voter fraud. Named in Nessel’s investigation were DePerno, Rendon, and Lambert, as well as six others including Ben Cotton, CEO of digital security firm CyFIR, which was involved in the Arizona Senate’s partisan election “audit”; Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf; and Doug Logan, the former CEO of Cyber Ninjas, which around that time was conducting the Arizona review.
Earlier this month, American Oversight settled a lawsuit against Leaf after successfully obtaining records related to a baseless election investigation Leaf launched in his county, with Leaf’s office abandoning its earlier claims that communications with well-known voter-fraud alarmists were related to law enforcement proceedings.
Following Nessel’s announcement, DePerno — who at the time was running for state attorney general — claimed that while a group of “expert witnesses” did seek to access the machines, elections officials had freely handed over the machines. A Detroit News investigation last year found that DePerno had repeatedly discussed his participation in the voting machine breach, including on podcasts and other public outlets.
Lambert and DePerno were both charged with undue possession of voting machines, conspiracy to access voting machines and conspiracy to access computer systems, and willfully damaging voting machines. Rendon was charged with conspiracy and false pretenses. According to Nessel’s request for a special prosecutor last year, five vote tabulators were taken to hotels or Airbnbs in Oakland County, Mich., and broken into so that “tests” could be performed on the equipment. According to that document, DePerno, Lambert, and Rendon had “orchestrated” the plan.
The text messages exchanged by Lambert, Logan, and others were released in response to American Oversight’s and the Arizona Republic’s litigation for records from the Cyber Ninjas-led “audit” of Maricopa County’s 2020 election results. The messages were sent in March and April of 2021, as the Maricopa review was still getting off the ground.
On March 18, 2021, Logan texted Cotton: “The MI team has gotten access to another tabulator & [ballot marking device]. They’re asking if we can have someone there tonight to start a data extraction from the two devices as early as tomorrow morning.” Logan provided more details about the devices and added, “The equipment is in the greater Detroit area.” According to the records, Logan and Cotton arranged flights to Detroit and arrived the next day.
Also on March 18, Logan texted Lambert, “I created a new group with Ben [Cotton], Matt [DePerno], you and I.” The next day, Lambert wrote, “I hope the hotel is ok with Ben. I’ll have to explain why my office wasn’t possible.” Logan replied, “We’re in enemy territory, I’m sure he’ll get it :-).”
On March 20, Logan told Lambert, “Ben [Cotton] can do all the capture and Jeff [Lenberg] can lead any mock elections,” possibly referring to the kinds of “tests” the group allegedly ran. Logan also mentioned he was having lunch with a friend “who has that lead on Germany” adding, “But my friend won’t even have this conversation with phones around, lol.” It’s unclear who Logan’s friend was, but among the conspiracy theories amplified by Trump after the election was one — spread by Russ Ramsland of Allied Security Operations Group, another firm involved in election-denial efforts — that claimed computer servers in Germany had been used to flip votes.
On March 24, Logan texted Cotton, “FYI, I got the [voting machines] running and they’re working.”
A few weeks later, on April 12, Lambert asked Logan when he would “be able to test it” himself. Two days later, apparently referring to tests run by the group, Lambert texted Logan: “We have no fresh ballots. For the township we have been running. Does it matter which ballots we use.”
The records also suggest that data forensics firm SullivanStrickler was involved in the Michigan effort. According to security video footage released last year, SullivanStrickler employees — along with Logan — made multiple visits to an elections office in Georgia’s Coffee County as part of a similar plot to access voting machines and make copies of data.
According to the records obtained by American Oversight, Logan wrote to Cotton on March 21, “FYI, you should receive an invite to SullivanStrickler’s share file to download the remaining Antrim files.” Antrim County was at the center of another post-election conspiracy theory, with DePerno having led a lawsuit in late 2020 that relied on unfounded and debunked allegations about voter fraud and was later dismissed by the court. Other messages provide additional indications of SullivanStrickler’s involvement in the alleged Michigan voting machine breach.
Around the same time, Logan wrote to Lambert about an earlier meeting with the other activists. “I really enjoyed meeting everyone,” Logan wrote.
Lambert responded, “Dar is awesome,” referring to Sheriff Dar Leaf.
Two months later, as the Arizona “audit” was in full swing, Logan texted Lambert about a statement released by Dominion Voting Systems in response to a request from the Arizona Senate for password information. Dominion’s statement criticized Cyber Ninjas for its bias, its lack of accreditation, and for having committed “a serious breach of the secure chain of custody that protects voting equipment.”
Logan asked Lambert for advice on the wording of a possible cease and desist letter to Dominion. He said that he had “never had any voting equipment under my control directly,” and added what appears to be a reference to the activities in Michigan: “Its my opinion that the equipment in Michigan was put under your care, and even if I used it that doesn’t put it under ‘my control.’”
American Oversight has been investigating the nationwide network of election deniers that have sought to undermine confidence in the election process, obtaining thousands of pages of records that shed light on anti-democracy efforts in several states. In April, we entered a settlement agreement with the Arizona Senate and Cyber Ninjas, having successfully extracted thousands of pages related to the election review, bringing our lawsuit to a close. Filings related to the lawsuit can be found here.
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