Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said Monday her Republican opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, was abusing his power by investigating the Georgia Democratic Party over what his office describes as an attempt to hack the state’s voter registration system.
Georgia Democrats have vehemently denied the claim. A series of email chains obtained by CNN late Sunday indicate that, rather than taking part in any alleged “hack,” the Georgia Democrats had simply passed along information about security concerns from a voter to a private cybersecurity firm, which in turn shared the issue with Kemp’s office.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a statement Monday that its Georgia Cyber Crime Center had opened a criminal investigation at the request of Kemp’s office.
As secretary of state, Kemp is overseeing an election in which he is also running, and he has resisted calls to step aside to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
“It’s wrong to call it an investigation,” Abrams told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.” “It’s a witch hunt that was created by someone who is abusing his power.”
Abrams pointed to a recent federal lawsuit in which Kemp was accused of failing to secure his state’s voting system and allowing a massive breach that exposed voter records and other sensitive election information.
“Instead of owning up to it, taking responsibility and seeking a way to fix the flaw, he instead decided to blame Democrats, because he does that,” Abrams said. “He doesn’t take accountability, he doesn’t take responsibility – what he does instead is find someone else to blame.”
“It’s a complete and utter fabrication,” she added.
Kemp defended the move in comments to reporters Monday after a rally, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“I’m not worried about how it looks. I’m doing my job,” Kemp said. “This is how we would handle any investigation when something like this comes up. Because I can assure you if I hadn’t done anything and the story came out that something was going on, you’d be going ‘Why didn’t you act?’ “
In a press release Sunday morning, Candice Broce, a Kemp spokeswoman, would not comment on “the specifics of an ongoing investigation” but confirmed that the state Democratic Party was “under investigation for possible cyber crimes.”
The Secretary of State’s Office later said the decision to launch the investigation was made after “receiving information from our legal team about failed efforts to breach the online voter registration system and My Voter Page.”
Broce said the office immediately alerted the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. The FBI declined to comment.
Kemp’s allegations came amid a surge of voter enthusiasm ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Early voting has exploded in Georgia. Fewer than a million people voted early in 2014, the most recent midterm election, according to data provided to CNN by the political research firm Catalist. More than 2 million have voted early in 2018, either in person or by mail, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
CNN’s Gregory Krieg, Veronica Stracqualursi, Joe Ruiz, Adam Levy, Jason Hoffman, Kaylee Hartung, Alex Marquardt and Drew Griffin contributed to this report.