The FBI is investigating a second attempted local election data breach linked to conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, this time in Ohio, after raiding the home of a Colorado election clerk accused of leaking voting system passwords last week.
FBI and state investigators are looking at an attempted breach of an Ohio county's election system at the office of John Hamercheck, the Republican president of the Lake County Board of Supervisors, The Washington Post first reported last week. The incident appears to be similar to a data breach in Mesa County, Colorado, where election clerk Tina Peters is under federaI investigation after voting system passwords were leaked to right-wing blogs and QAnon conspiracy theorists. Data from both incidents were featured at the MyPillow founder's conspiracy-laden "cyber symposium" in August. Both Hamercheck and Peters discussed voter fraud claims with Lindell's sidekick Douglas Frank before the symposium, according to the Post.
State and county officials told the Post that no sensitive information was obtained in the attempted Ohio breach but they determined that a private laptop was plugged into the county network at Hamercheck's office. Routine network traffic data obtained in the breach was distributed at Lindell's event.
The FBI confirmed that it is investigating the breach. A spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, told the Post that investigators believe that a government official "facilitated the attempted breach."
Officials said several layers of security prevented the laptop from accessing sensitive information.
"It's concerning that somebody would — especially somebody in a government office, somebody who is an elected official, or somebody who's part of county government — would not realize all of those safeguards exist and would try to engage in some sort of a vigilante investigation," LaRose told the outlet. "The good news is that our system of cybersecurity in Ohio is among the best in the nation."
Hamercheck denied any knowledge of any breach attempt during a board meeting on Tuesday, saying there has been "much false or misleading information" about what happened.
"To my knowledge, there was never an attempt to access or breach the Lake County Board of Elections computer network that day," Hamercheck claimed, though he did not elaborate.
Hamercheck said he has not been interviewed in the investigation but vowed to share more information "as soon as we are finished gathering and verifying the appropriate materials."
The attempted breach came after Frank, a part-time math and science teacher who has claimed to have discovered secret algorithms used to rig the presidential election against former President Donald Trump, traveled the country to recruit local election officials into Lindell's conspiracy theory campaign, ostensibly aimed at undoing the 2020 election result and "reinstating" Trump. (There is no constitutional pathway for doing that.) Frank previously told the outlet he had traveled to more thant 30 states and met with 100 election administrators, claiming that his presentation had convinced Peters to pursue his baseless conspiracy theory. He told the Post he had no recollection of speaking with Hamercheck but the newspaper reported that Frank took part in a phone conversation with the official earlier this year.
"Do I remember that call? No," Frank said. "Does it sound like me? Yes."
County records obtained by the Post show that Hamercheck, an engineer, used his security badge to swipe into the offices where the attempted breach originated multiple times and that a private laptop was connected to the county network.
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Local resident Lois Osborn pressed Hamercheck on the incident during Tuesday's board meeting after saying she was "very disturbed" by the news reports.
"There was a breach coming from John Hamercheck's office," she told the board, calling for him to be censured. "In my mind, this was something very inappropriate for an elected official in Lake County."
Ron Young, one of the other commissioners, told Osborn it was too early to consider sanctions.
"We have very sophisticated, very skilled law enforcement — nationally, state level, locally — working on this issue," Young said. "And I think it'd be absurd for me to stand up and offer some sort of censure of this gentleman, who at least from my observation has always performed ethically, morally and properly."
The FBI and state authorities last week raided the home of Peters and three others, including Sherronna Bishop, who previously worked as campaign manager for Rep. Lauren Boebert's, R-Colo. Bishop has spoken at events with Peters and introduced Frank during a recent event in Colorado. Search warrants in the raid suggest the FBI is investigating potential wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and damage protected computers.
State investigators say Peters shut off surveillance in her office and allowed an unauthorized person to access voting machine servers, data from which were later leaked to conspiracy theorists and featured at Lindell's August symposium.
A judge last month barred Peters from overseeing elections. Peters has denied wrongdoing and accused the Justice Department and state officials of political bias.
Lindell has used the leaked data and Frank's "research" to push wild conspiracy theories that Dominion voting machines were set up to flip votes from Trump to President Joe Biden. Dominion sued Lindell and other TrumpWorld conspiracists for $1.3 billion over the false allegations earlier this year.
After his August "cyber symposium" failed to show any evidence of a massive election-fraud conspiracy, Lindell on Tuesday announced that he would hold a 96-hour "Thanks-a-thon" live stream on his web channel to rehash his claims.
Lindell promised over the summer to bring a fantastical lawsuit to the Supreme Court "before Thanksgiving" that would overturn the election and reinstate Trump. Lindell claimed that "tons" of state attorneys general were ready to sign on to the suit, though he did not name a single one. On Tuesday, Lindell appeared to reverse field once again, claiming that attorneys general had backed away from his case under pressure from Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, who admitted last week that Biden won the election — which Lindell sees as another part of a grand conspiracy.
"You can't tell me why Ronna McDaniel, the head of the RNC, made a statement saying Biden won three days before this Supreme Court complaint was supposed to go to the Supreme Court," he said. "What about the timing of that, America!"
Editor's note: This article was updated after it was published to clarify that the Ohio incident was an "attempted" breach. A spokesman for LaRose told Salon that "no election information, no election data, and nothing from inside the Lake County board of elections was compromised or even ever in any jeopardy."
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