As a former Trump campaign lawyer, Sidney Powell did more than perhaps anyone to push the big lie that President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in last November’s presidential election was the result of fraud involving Dominion Voting Systems machines. Now, however, lawyers representing her have acknowledged that the “big lie” is, in fact, just that.
Powell faces a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion because of her false claims, and on Monday her lawyers offered her defense: that “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements” Powell made about election fraud “were truly statements of fact.”
“Indeed, Plaintiffs themselves characterize the statements at issue as ‘wild accusations’ and ‘outlandish claims.’ They are repeatedly labelled ‘inherently improbable’ and even ‘impossible,’” Powell’s lawyers add. “Such characterizations of the allegedly defamatory statements further support Defendants’ position that reasonable people would not accept such statements as fact but view them only as claims that await testing by the courts through the adversary process.”
Indeed, Powell’s conspiracy theories were wild and outlandish.
During an infamous November 19 news conference, for instance, she asserted that there was a “globalist” conspiracy to take down Trump — improbably involving the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez — and asserted that “in the middle of the night, after they’ve supposedly stopped counting, and that’s when the Dominion operators went in and injected votes and changed the whole system.”
There was just one problem for Powell: She was never able to produce a shred of evidence for her claims.
On the contrary, election officials on both sides of the aisle, and Trump administration officials like Attorney General Bill Barr, admitted that Biden’s victory over Trump was the product of a free and fair election. And the outlandishness of her conspiracy theories seemed to be a bit much even for Rudy Giuliani, who during a Newsmax interview in December distanced Trump’s legal team from Powell and said her arguments go beyond “the bounds of rationality, common sense, and the law.”
But as the legal challenges to the election that Powell and other lawyers filed on behalf of Trump failed one by one, Trump not only didn’t join Giuliani in distancing himself from Powell, but reportedly considered appointing her as special counsel to investigate the very unfounded claims of election fraud she was pushing.
That plan didn’t pan out, and in the days after the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, Dominion began taking legal action against those who pushed lies about its voting systems, including Powell, Giuliani, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, Fox News, and Newsmax.
“Dominion brings this action to set the record straight,” lawyers representing Dominion wrote in the suit against Powell, adding later: “There are mountains of direct evidence that conclusively disprove Powell’s vote manipulation claims against Dominion — namely, the millions of paper ballots that were audited and recounted by bipartisan officials and volunteers in Georgia and other swing states, which confirmed that Dominion accurately counted votes on paper ballots.”
Powell’s legal filing suggests her money was never where her mouth was.
And yet the big lie lives on
While Powell’s attorneys were quietly acknowledging that her conspiracy theories aren’t true, Trump was on Fox News pushing the big lie with impunity.
“Look, we won the election, as far as I’m concerned. We had a great election. We had almost 75 million votes,” he said on Tuesday.
Trump wasn’t challenged to back up his claims, but it is notable that there’s been a change in his approach when talking about the election, and one that was apparent in his Fox News appearance.
When the former president has tried to make a case that the election was stolen from him in recent weeks, he’s no longer made claims about votes being changed. Instead, he’s argued that pandemic-related changes to state election laws were unconstitutional — arguments that were rejected in courtroom after courtroom when Trump’s lawyers made them, including by judges he appointed.
Despite this shift, Trump ultimately hasn’t repudiated his false claims, as Powell appears to be doing. And as baseless as it may be, the big lie not only lives on in Trump’s new narrative but is giving Republicans in states like Georgia and Arizona that Trump narrowly lost a pretext to try to make it harder for people to vote.
Powell is reviving the Tucker Carlson defense
Powell’s court filing represents the second time in recent months that a prominent Trumpworld figure has acknowledged in a court of law that they are full of it. Fox News did much the same thing to defend host Tucker Carlson against a defamation lawsuit brought by Karen McDougal, a woman who claims to have had an affair with Trump.
As Aaron Blake explains for the Washington Post:
When Carlson accused Karen McDougal of extorting former president Donald Trump over her claims of an affair, McDougal filed suit against him. Fox News’s defense was that a “reasonable viewer” would not accept such claims as fact because of the tenor of Carlson’s show. And a judge agreed, dismissing the case.
It remains to be seen whether Powell’s strategy will be similarly successful. But her filing makes it clearer than ever that Trump allies’ attempt to overthrow the 2020 election was a naked power grab based on a pack of lies.