Courts & Litigation Democracy & Elections

A New Player in Coffee County

Anna Bower
Saturday, December 2, 2023, 12:08 PM
Omissions by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation cast further doubt on its work product.
Downtown Douglas, Coffee County, Georgia, April 2012. (Mjrmtg,; CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED,

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Earlier this week, Lawfare published my lengthy review of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) report on the unauthorized copying of voting equipment in Coffee County, Georgia. For 13 months, the statewide law enforcement agency investigated potential crimes related to the voting system breach that occurred in Coffee County in January 2021. The GBI’s investigation, which was carried out separately from the investigation by the Fulton County district attorney’s office, resulted in a 392-page report. The report is now in the hands of Georgia’s attorney general, Chris Carr, who will decide whether to pursue charges based on its findings. 

The report, as I wrote on Monday, seems to reflect a badly inadequate investigation. The agency failed to seek interviews with key witnesses and relied almost entirely on the previous work of civil litigants and the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Most concerningly, the document contains glaring factual omissions, which I cataloged in detail. 

But, as it turns out, the document omits more details than I reported. 

Since we published that story a few days ago, Lawfare obtained additional documents acquired by the GBI during its investigation. The documents, recently filed with a magistrate judge in a matter related to a civil suit called Curling v. Raffensperger, contain relevant details not captured in the GBI report. And they raise questions about the previously unknown involvement of an individual—a lawyer named Robert Cheeley—who is already indicted in Fulton County for conduct separate from the Coffee County caper as a part of the alleged racketeering case brought by district attorney Fani Willis.

An “Open Records Request”

The basic facts of l’affaire Coffee County will be familiar to those who have followed the saga

On Jan. 7, a local GOP chairperson, Cathy Latham, and a bail bondsman, Scott Hall, accompanied a computer forensics team into the elections office in Douglas, Georgia. Inside, they were joined by several people, including a then member of the board of elections, Eric Chaney, and the county’s elections supervisor, Misty Hampton. (Hampton has previously gone by the names “Misty Martin” or “Misty Hayes.”)

According to the GBI report, the forensics team—a group of employees with an Atlanta-based forensic data firm called SullivanStrickler LLC—had been hired by Sidney Powell, a lawyer working with Donald Trump’s legal team. Over the course of several hours, the SullivanStrickler employees handled, scanned, and copied the state’s most sensitive voting software and equipment. They did this, the report alleges, without lawful authority.

Throughout the month of January 2021, similar breaches occurred on at least three other occasions, as additional outsiders were again given access to the state’s voting equipment. Forensic copies were subsequently accessed by more than a dozen individuals across several states, according to the GBI.

Days before the initial Jan. 7 breach, Katherine Friess—an “election integrity” attorney for Trump who worked closely with Rudy Giuliani—messaged an employee of the Atlanta-based forensics firm SullivanStrickler: “Hi! Just handed [sic] back in DC with the Mayor,” she said on Jan. 1, 2021. “Huge things starting to come together! Most immediately, we were granted access—by written invitation!—to the Coffee County Systens [sic]. Yay!” According to the report, Friess added that she was “putting details together” with several others, including Preston Haliburton, an attorney who represented Giuliani and Latham at a Georgia legislative hearing on Dec. 30, 2020. 

As I have previously explained, a central mystery in the Coffee County saga once revolved around the so-called “written invitation” referred to by Friess. The GBI report, in perhaps its most significant contribution, resolves some questions about the existence and content of that purported “invitation.” 

In June 2023, the agency seized the desktop computer used by Hampton during her tenure as elections supervisor. It subsequently extracted thousands of emails from the seized computer. 

The tranche of documents and emails recovered from that computer by the GBI included the purported “written invitation” authored by Hampton. In the letter, dated Dec. 31, 2020, Hampton wrote as follows: “I will be speaking with my board, and per Georgia Law I do not see any problem assisting you with anything y’all need accordance to Georgia Law.”

Hampton’s letter purports to be a response to an open records request. According to the GBI, that open records request was apparently sent by Preston Haliburton, the above-mentioned attorney who represented Giuliani and Latham at the Dec. 30, 2020, state legislative hearing. The GBI report describes the content of Haliburton’s request as follows: 

Lawfare recently obtained a copy of what appears to be Haliburton’s full letter. According to a source familiar with the matter, the document was among the files seized by the GBI from Hampton’s computer in the elections office. The document was recently submitted to a magistrate judge in relation to a discovery dispute in the Curling litigation. The request reads as follows: 

As it turns out, the GBI report omits several relevant details contained within the full letter. 

First, the letter suggests that Haliburton did not merely request the production of certain 2020 election materials under Georgia’s open records law. He also mentioned “testing” such ballots and noted that he would “have experts accompanying to analyze the originals and the electronic stored version” of the ballots (emphasis added). That seems relevant considering that, just a few days later, a group of forensic experts would show up in Coffee County to copy data stored on the county’s election machines.  

Second, the GBI does not mention that Haliburton’s letter names another attorney as an additional point of contact: Robert Cheeley. Haliburton instructs Hampton to contact either himself or Cheeley to “coordinate the location for the inspection” of the requested materials. 

Cheeley, who goes by “Bob,” is an attorney who has been charged in Fulton County as a part of the alleged racketeering enterprise that sought to overturn the results of a presidential election that Trump had lost. While the breach in Coffee County constitutes one aspect of that larger conspiracy alleged in the Fulton County indictment, Cheeley has not been charged with any discrete crimes related to Coffee County. Instead, his charges beyond the alleged RICO violation relate to efforts to assemble a slate of fake electors and false statements he is alleged to have made before the Georgia legislature and the Fulton County special grand jury. He has pleaded not guilty. 

But Haliburton’s reference to Cheeley is potentially relevant to the GBI investigation in light of testimony summarized elsewhere in the agency’s report. According to the report, Alex Cruce, an engineer from Florida who was present during the copying that occurred on Jan. 7, told investigators that he believed either Cheeley or Charles Bundren, an attorney connected to Allied Security Operations Group (ASOG), were “the driving force” behind the initial breach. 

Meanwhile, another person involved in the Jan. 7 breach, the bail bondsman Hall, recently told investigators in Fulton County that Cheeley was part of the “brain trust” coordinating the Jan. 7 breach, according to a proffer video obtained by the Washington Post following Hall’s guilty plea in that case. According to the Post’s description of Hall’s interview with prosecutors, as well as a description of his testimony summarized in an October court filing, Hall recalled visiting Cheeley’s law offices on Jan. 6, 2021—the day before the breach. There, while the attorneys were in a hearing, Hall received a call from Latham about sending experts to look at ballots and machines in the Coffee County elections office. Hall said he subsequently connected the attorneys assembled at Cheeley’s law office with Latham, according to the filing. 

At the time, court records show that Cheeley was litigating an election-related case in Fulton County with the help of Bundren, the ASOG attorney. A hearing in the case was scheduled for Jan. 6, 2021. Later in the evening on that day, Bundren’s name was included in a Signal group chat titled “Coffee_County_Forensics.” 

Interestingly, Cheeley later represented Latham when she was deposed in the Curling litigation. The Fulton County indictment alleges that Latham perjured herself during this deposition by misrepresenting her role in the breach. 

Last year, after newly released video surveillance appeared to undercut some of the claims she made during that deposition, Cheeley told CNN that Latham “did not authorize or participate in any ballot scanning efforts, computer imaging, or any similar activity in Coffee County in January 2021.”

To be fair, however, GBI investigators did not have the benefit of Hall’s statements to Fulton County prosecutors; the GBI investigation wrapped up several weeks before Hall pleaded guilty to crimes related to Coffee County. 

Still, given Cruce’s statements to GBI investigators, one would think that the report would note that Haliburton referred to Cheeley as a point of contact in a letter that requested permission for a team of experts to test and analyze election materials in Coffee County. 

It does not. 

“Proper Legal Means”

Notably, Haliburton again refers to Cheeley in another document recently filed with a magistrate judge in relation to the Curling litigation:  A Jan. 9, 2021 email from Haliburton to Hampton. 

The document appears to show Haliburton’s response to Hampton’s Dec. 31, 2020, email in which she replied to his open records request and attached the so-called written invitation. “Just seeing this,” Haliburton wrote on Jan. 9, 2021. “I think Bob Cheely maybe getting court orders which is probably the best route as always want to go proper legal means,” he told Hampton.


The GBI report does not mention this email. 

But the email is significant for two reasons. First, Haliburton again refers to Cheeley, who Cruce had described as a possible “driving force” behind the copying carried out on Jan. 7, 2021. 

The agency apparently never attempted to interview Haliburton or Cheeley. 

Second, Haliburton’s claim that he was “just seeing” Hampton’s reply to his open records request raises several questions. If Haliburton did not see Hampton’s invitation on Jan. 9, why did Friess tell a SullivanStrickler employee on Jan. 1 that her team had received a “written invitation” to access Coffee County systems? And why, in that same message, did Friess claim that she was “putting details together” with Haliburton and others? The GBI does not attempt to resolve these questions. 

The omissions canvassed above may not be the most important details in the Coffee County saga. But Cheeley is already alleged to have participated in a racketeering enterprise of which l’affaire Coffee County is one aspect. That the GBI failed to examine his role continues to cast doubt on its work product.

Memo to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (vol. 2): There’s still a lot of work to do. 

Anna Bower is Lawfare’s Legal Fellow and Courts Correspondent. Anna holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Cambridge and a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School. She joined Lawfare as a recipient of Harvard’s Sumner M. Redstone Fellowship in Public Service. Prior to law school, Anna worked as a judicial assistant for a Superior Court judge in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit of Georgia. She also previously worked as a Fulbright Fellow at Anadolu University in Eskişehir, Turkey. A native of Georgia, Anna is based in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

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