Resurfaced interviews from late 2020 have raised new questions about the role that a right-wing pundit played in former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn election results by accessing and copying data from election systems in several battleground states.
Brian Kennedy, a senior fellow at the MAGA-aligned Claremont Institute, frequently appeared on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast in the days and weeks following Trump’s loss in 2020. He regularly detailed his on-the-ground presence in areas where Trump’s team was challenging the results of the election in court, amplifying conspiracy theories and calling into question the integrity of local vote counts with flimsy or nonexistent evidence. Kennedy was also reportedly involved in a separate initiative to seize control of state election infrastructure by running far-right candidates for secretary of state.
Those projects were part of a multi-pronged effort by Trump and his allies to remain in power despite his electoral defeat. Their court challenges, like the ones Kennedy was involved in, have been a complete, unmitigated failure, with 61 of 62 getting thrown out by judges. But a new report from The Washington Post shows that though the efforts were legally unsuccessful, their attempts to uncover evidence of vote tampering may have actually violated election security measures, undermining the very systems they were supposedly auditing for security flaws.
On August 15, The Washington Post reported that lawyers and activists allied with Trump hired a digital forensics team as part of a far-reaching effort to “access voting equipment” in at least three states. In Georgia, the forensics team “copied sensitive data from election systems,” according to the Post. They were also able to gain access to data in Michigan, but apparently not in Nevada.
Breaches like that can lead to serious legal charges, as in the case of Tina Peters, an election official in Colorado who was indicted on felony charges related to improper copying of election data.
The Post story makes only a passing mention of Kennedy, and his involvement in the scheme outlined by the Post remains unclear. Still, Kennedy’s public comments on War Room and the new information paint a picture of someone deeply involved in efforts to subvert the election results.
On November 30, 2020, former intelligence official Jim Penrose contacted executives at the Georgia-based forensics firm SullivanStrickler, arranging for them to travel to Nevada. Trump campaign lawyer Jesse Binnall invoiced the company that evening. On December 3, Paul Maggio, chief operations officer at SullivanStrickler, responded with a bill for “the 2 days we spent in Las Vegas, NV in support of this matter.”
The following day, Kennedy, who had been copied on some of the correspondence, responded to that email. “I spoke to Jesse and he said the payment is in process,” Kennedy wrote to Maggio, according to the Post.
The nature of the work that SullivanStrickler did in Nevada isn’t publicly known. In an early version of the piece, the Post reported these details:
A person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss litigation, said Binnall hired SullivanStrickler to forensically examine election systems in Clark County after Trump’s team won a court order on Nov. 30 granting access to “testing equipment and programs” there. But the firm’s investigators were only allowed to do a cursory examination of machinery, the person said, and Binnall’s efforts to compel access to additional equipment were rejected by the judge in the case. The case was later dismissed.
The Post then removed much of that section without including an explanation, leaving only that the judge dismissed Binnall’s efforts and that the case was ultimately dismissed.
SullivanStrickler also did work for the team in Arizona, though the scope is publicly unknown.
Later, after Maggio also copied Binnall on another email about data examinations elsewhere, Penrose emailed him to say: “Please do not communicate about any additional forensics work in AZ to the other legal teams. Keep that in confidential channels with me, Sidney, and Doug only.” It is unclear what work in Arizona he was referring to.
The Post doesn’t say whether Kennedy was included in those emails.
War Room interviews
Kennedy appeared on Bannon’s War Room at least three times in November 2020, including once from Nevada on November 13 and once from Arizona on November 30, the day Penrose first contacted SullivanStrickler. On November 26, Bannon credited Kennedy with helping “the president focus on Nevada and Arizona.”
Kennedy appeared on War Room at least six times in December 2020, including three consecutive days from December 3-5, a period covered in the Post’s reporting relating to Kennedy.
On December 3, Kennedy said that he and his colleagues hadn’t been able to investigate voting machines in Clark County, Nevada, to their satisfaction, despite what he believed to be a court order allowing access to them.
“The campaign actually had a court order to go look at the Dominion voting systems on Wednesday, and I joined them and spent six hours standing in [the] Clark County Registrar of Voters Office looking at Dominion voting systems,” Kennedy said. “And they would let us look at them, but the court order said we could inspect them and we were hoping that we could actually figure out what's going on in a Dominion voting system.”
“But all they would let us do is look at them,” he continued. “And so we – we had a bunch of tech experts there that were trying to dig into them, but that wasn't possible.”
He went on to detail the work his team had tried to do:
BRIAN KENNEDY (CLAREMONT INSTITUTE SENIOR FELLOW): We had a team of forensic experts go in there and they looked at all the paperwork and they looked at the machines themselves. They even got out a bunch of the machines for us to look at, and they even booted them on. But you couldn't really touch them and you couldn't use any kind of devices to actually find out forensically what transpired in the election. And when we asked to actually hook our computers up to theirs, to actually monitor, you know, what might have transpired in the election, they said, no, that's – you know, we can't do that.
Kennedy didn’t say who those “forensic experts” were, but that time period is when the Post initially reported that SullivanStickler investigators were in Nevada but only allowed to perform a “cursory examination” of the machines.
On December 4, Kennedy reiterated his frustration with his team’s inability to “look into the Dominion voting system and see how it actually operates” in Nevada. He added that “part of our cyber team flew to – flew back to Georgia, part of it is still in Nevada.”
On December 5, Kennedy again complained that “we got to look at the physical outside of the machine, but not the inside of the machine.”
“What you’re seeing in Arizona and Georgia and elsewhere is the ability to look into the machine and to look into the software,” he added.
A subsequent audit of Dominion systems by the federal government found that they had never been exploited to alter the outcome of an election, including in 2020. Dominion is now suing multiple Trump associates and right-wing media outlets, including Fox News, One America News, and Newsmax, for spreading false election claims.
On the December 14 edition of War Room, Bannon introduced Kennedy as “one of the organizers of the cyber team that’s gone in and looked at Antrim, Michigan.” The Post reported that SullivanStrickler did extensive work for Trump’s team in Antrim throughout December.
As the Post reports, SullivanStrickler investigators “copied the hard drive of an elections server in Antrim on Dec. 6, 2020,” and told Penrose and Trump lawyer Sidney Powell that “the Antrim files would be made available to download from a secure online folder once the firm was paid.” (That data was later made public at an August 2021 “cyber symposium” convened by right-wing donor and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.)
The following month, one day after the attempted fascist coup on January 6, 2021, Trump’s team sent SullivanStrickler to Georgia, according to the Post. Maggio told Powell that the job was “going well.” Like in Michigan, but apparently unlike in Nevada, the effort was successful, as the forensic team was able to gain access to nearly everything that had previously been denied to them in Clark County.
“The data obtained by the investigators included copies of virtually every component of the county voting system, including the central tabulation server and a precinct tabulator, according to a directory of file names that Maggio’s lawyer sent the plaintiffs in the Georgia case,” the Post reported.
Although Maggio told Powell the next day that he would share the data they’d collected, more than three months passed before they sent it to the Trump team. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has now reportedly opened a criminal investigation into the January 7 breach.
The degree to which Kennedy is implicated in the successful copying of the data in Michigan and Georgia, and what appears to be a failed attempt to do the same in Nevada, is unclear. But his inclusion in at least one set of emails about Nevada – and his repeated statements on War Room about his involvement in the broader effort to gain access to Dominion voting systems – raise serious questions about his apparent participation in the Trump team’s efforts to breach voting systems following the 2020 election.