Inside a Trump-Backed Candidate’s Leaky Audit Fiasco

·7 min read
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

On the morning of Jan. 6, hours before rioters would break into the Capitol, another, quieter breach appeared to be underway.

“I am publishing the Dominion audit raw data from Antrim County machines,” pro-Trump activist Joe Oltmann wrote in an email to a Newsmax correspondent. “Sitting with Matt DePerno and his information overlays this diagram.. perfectly.”

This would not be the last time that apparent voting machine data from Antrim County, Michigan, was distributed through conservative conspiracy circles. Despite voting for Trump in the 2020 presidential election, the northern Michigan county has become central to election fraud conspiracy theories, including new efforts to “audit” Michigan’s election. At the heart of the audit efforts, and the Antrim County conspiracy theories, is Matthew DePerno, an attorney whose election theories have won him the endorsement of Donald Trump in Michigan’s upcoming attorney general race.

“He has defended the Constitution for 20 years, and has been on the front lines pursuing fair and accurate elections, as he relentlessly fights to reveal the truth about the Nov. 3rd Presidential Election Scam,” Trump wrote in an endorsement for DePerno last month.

Former Pro Surfer and RVCA Founder Conan Hayes is at the Heart of Stop-the-Steal Mania

In actuality, Trump lost the Nov. 3 election and, until late 2020, DePerno was an attorney specializing in tax law and business litigation.

DePerno became an unlikely hero of the Stop The Steal movement after Trump’s 2020 election loss. Shortly after polls closed on Nov. 3, Antrim County officials misreported their county’s election results, showing a Biden victory. Officials quickly realized the mistake (due to human error, not a voting machine) and issued a correction. State and local officials conducted multiple recounts, confirming Trump’s victory in the county.

An Antrim County man sued anyway, hiring DePerno to argue that the county had been complicit in voter fraud against Trump. The case was dismissed in May, but not before a judge gave DePerno’s team permission to examine Antrim County voting machines. Leaks of Antrim County information began almost immediately. Conan Hayes, a former professional surfer who served as an “expert witness” on DePerno’s team, appeared to tweet raw data from Antrim County voting machines while inspecting those machines in November, The Daily Beast previously reported.

Around the time of that apparent leak, DePerno and at least one of his “expert witnesses” were in communication with the far-right news network OANN, according to court filings in a separate lawsuit. (The case concerns a former employee of a voting machine company, who became the subject of election fraud conspiracy theories.)

“I do recall in Antrim County dealing with Matt DePerno,” an OANN employee said in a deposition in that case. “He’s an attorney. And somewhere around this time—I don’t know the exact date. It might be before or after—we were engaged with some of his technical experts. And we actually filmed the experts explaining how the machines might have thrown out the results that they did in Antrim County.”

The OANN reporter clarified that he did not believe DePerno was an elections security expert “but I think we filmed one of his experts and did a pretty thorough review of how there could have been irregularities in the election.”

And by January, according to an email in that same lawsuit, Oltmann had reviewed Antrim County voting machine data in DePerno’s presence, telling the Newsmax reporter he was “publishing the Dominion audit raw data.”

Oltmann declined to comment for this story. Reached via email, DePerno did not directly answer questions about the leaks, asking The Daily Beast, “Why do you care? It doesn’t matter, does it?”

Hours after Oltmann’s email about publishing “raw data from Antrim County machines,” a short-lived website appeared to publish 114 files of Antrim County voting machine information, researcher Trapezoid of Discovery previously noted. Later that month, Oltmann sent that link to other election truthers including former Trump attorney Sidney Powell, emails show. Oltmann also purported to send direct download links to Antrim County voter data to Powell and others, who responded enthusiastically in emails.

The leaks appeared to have mirrored the data that DePerno’s team removed from Antrim County voting machines. On Jan. 11, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Erik Grill testified in court about concerns over the leak.

“We had heard reports that there was a website somewhere that had obtained copies and had published them, and I think that has subsequently been taken down,” Grill said.

The Antrim County voting machine data was restricted under a protective order, Grill noted. In other words, DePerno’s team was allowed to examine the voting machines, but was not allowed to freely distribute data they removed from the machines.

That protective order would become relevant again in August, when Antrim County voting machine data leaked again, this time at a “cyber symposium” hosted by MyPillow CEO and conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.

In a court filing first reported by the Traverse City Record-Eagle, election security experts testified that data from Antrim County machines was once again leaking into the conspiracy world.

“We have received information that during an event earlier this week, Mike Lindell publicly displayed or distributed images of the Antrim County EMS software,” Grill wrote in an email to DePerno.

Michigan’s attorney general filed a complaint, alleging that the images from Lindell’s cyber symposium had originated from DePerno’s case—in violation of a court order.

“The data distributed at the ‘Cyber Symposium’ and represented as being from Antrim County is authentic, and contains almost the entirety of the material collected by Plaintiff’s forensic team that I reviewed as part of my expert report in this case,” an expert testified.

DePerno told The Daily Beast that he did not know whether his data was displayed at the Cyber Symposium. “I have no idea what data was displayed at the symposium because I wasn’t there,” DePerno said.

But court filings reveal that DePerno sent Lindell a cease-and-desist, cautioning him that the data was protected by court order.

“This is a demand that you immediately cease and desist disclosing or displaying any forensic images of Antrim County,” DePerno wrote. “Those images are under protective order. Neither you or your team are permitted to display or use those images.”

DePerno has, nevertheless, welcomed Lindell’s support. The MyPillow founder made a remote appearance at one of DePerno’s “truth in voting” campaign events this month. On Monday, DePerno tweeted a video in which Lindell endorsed his campaign.

DePerno’s Michigan attorney general campaign is a longshot, as are his calls to “audit” Michigan’s 2020 election. But, as in Arizona, those audit calls have become a hotbed for far-right organizing, bringing together QAnon supporters and local lawmakers (and sometimes QAnon-supporting local lawmakers) at pro-audit rallies. And DePerno’s race is one of several recent state-level races in which Trump has endorsed 2020-truther candidates who could influence the electoral process in future races. In Arizona, Trump endorsed state Rep. Mark Finchem for secretary of state. Finchem is a vocal supporter of election fraud conspiracy theories, leading concerns that as secretary of state, he could interfere on Trump’s behalf in future elections.

Trump’s endorsement of DePerno cited the aspiring AG’s election trutherism, particularly his work in Antrim County. DePerno has “exposed so much Voter Fraud in Antrim County, and many more places, in the 2020 Election,” Trump wrote (never mind that DePerno’s Antrim County claims have been debunked and his court case dismissed).

Ironically, despite claims to support election security, the widespread release of Antrim County voting machine images could put future elections at greater risk, a security expert testified.

“In my professional opinion,” the expert wrote in a court filing this summer, “global public release of the server images lowers the barrier to planning an attack against any election management system running this Dominion software, and therefore makes future attacks against such systems more likely.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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