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Questions raised in timeline of state response to Coffee County breach

The state has presented shifting timelines for when it knew of a breach of Coffee County equipment in January 2021.

ATLANTA — There are new questions about when precisely Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger knew about a breach in the Coffee County election office of early January 2021, with shifting timelines being offered between public statements from the Secretary of State's Office and court filings by state attorneys in a lawsuit challenging the security of the state's voting system.

Last Thursday, 11Alive’s Doug Richards interviewed Secretary Raffensperger and asked him on camera when he first learned about the breach. Raffensperger initially answered January of 2021, but within minutes of answering, an aide to Raffensberger corrected the Secretary of State's response off camera and offered May of 2021 as the correct date. 

11Alive used that corrected information in our on-air report and removed a full interview with Raffensperger from YouTube, which included the earlier, initial answer of January 2021.

However, on Friday, a representative with the Secretary of State's Office clarified that the office did not know about or began investigating Coffee County until July 2022.

Because of these discrepancies in the three different timelines, 11Alive is republishing the full interview, which you can watch below:

The timeline comes into focus ahead of a hearing in the lawsuit, Curling v. Raffensperger, on Monday. The suit is a longstanding challenge to Georgia's electronic voting system, dating to well before the 2020 election, brought by a coalition trying to compel the state to use hand-marked paper ballots.

It is through this lawsuit that videos have emerged in recent weeks of pro-Trump activists at the Coffee County election office on Jan. 7, 2021. 

RELATED: Raffensperger: Coffee County probe stalled because local officials lied

While there, the activists allegedly copied systems data from the election equipment on site - with one video specifically showing them handling and working around poll pads. The poll pads are tablets which produce the voting cards people need to use to start the voting process, and state officials told The New York Times that the poll pads "have voter information but it's not accessible because it's scrambled behind security protocols."

One of the activists, Atlanta area businessman Scott Hall, has said in an audio recording released as part of the lawsuit that a computer forensics team allegedly hired by Trump attorney Sidney Powell "went in there and imaged every hard drive of every piece of equipment." 

This allegedly occurred with the complicity of local Coffee County officials, including the former county GOP chairwoman Cathy Latham.

“We basically had the entire elections committee there. And they said: ‘We give you permission. Go for it,'" Hall reportedly said. 

The episode has resulted in a criminal investigation launched by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Secretary of State's Office - with 11Alive's Doug Richards reporting on that investigation as early as May of this year.

State officials, however, have provided an imprecise version of the timeline of their knowledge of the incident and their actions in response.

  • Jan. 7, 2021: Breach occurs in Coffee County election office
  • Jan. 2021: In interview last week, this is when Raffensperger first said he learned of the incident.
  • May 2021: Minutes later, after the conclusion of the interview, an aide told 11Alive he misspoke and corrected that date to May 2021.
  • Feb: 2022: The next day, state official Gabriel Sterling spoke to 11Alive and said the "claim was made" in Feb. 2022.
  • May 2022: 11Alive reports on the existence of the investigation into the incident.
  • July 2022: Attorneys for the state in court, and Sterling in a statement to 11Alive, have said this is when "supporting evidence" for allegations about the incident were found.

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