|Born||1955 (age 65–66)|
Durham, North Carolina, U.S.
|Education||University of North Carolina (BA, JD)|
Sidney Katherine Powell (born 1955) is an American attorney and former federal prosecutor, best known for her promotion of conspiracy theories in attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election.
Powell began her career as an assistant United States attorney in the Western District of Texas. During her tenure she prosecuted Jimmy Chagra, who was implicated in the May 1979 assassination of United States district judge John H. Wood Jr. She represented executives in the Enron scandal, and in 2019, defended retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn in United States v. Flynn.
In 2020, Powell joined the legal team of then-President Donald Trump in an attempt to overturn President Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election. After several interviews in which Powell spread election fraud theories, Trump's legal team distanced itself from her, though she continued to meet with the president in the White House. Powell continued filing election lawsuits independently in district courts, and ultimately lost four federal lawsuits in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin.
Powell claimed that Flynn was framed by a covert "deep state" operation, and has promoted personalities and slogans associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory. She alleged that a secret international cabal involving communists, "globalists", George Soros, Hugo Chávez, the Clinton Foundation, the CIA, and thousands of Democratic and Republican officials—including Trump ally and Georgia governor Brian Kemp—used voting machines to transfer millions of votes away from Trump in the 2020 presidential election. After she accused the election technology companies Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic of engaging in a conspiracy to rig the election, Dominion and Smartmatic each sued her for defamation. Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel and the city of Detroit filed separate motions in federal court to sanction her for attempting to overturn Biden's victory in Michigan.
Sidney Katherine Powell was born in Durham, North Carolina, grew up in the city of Raleigh, and knew from an early age that she wanted to be a lawyer. She graduated from Needham Broughton High School and went on to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts. At the age of 19, she was accepted into the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she graduated in 1978 with a Juris Doctor degree. She began her legal career as one of the youngest federal prosecutors in the US.
From 1978 through 1988, Powell was an assistant United States attorney for the Western and Northern Districts of Texas and the Eastern District of Virginia, where she handled civil and criminal trial work. She was appointed Appellate Section Chief for the Western District of Texas and then the Northern District of Texas.
Powell was one of the prosecutors in the 1979 trial of Jimmy Chagra. He was accused in the assassination of John H. Wood Jr., a federal judge from Texas. Chagra was acquitted for involvement in the assassination but convicted on other charges. He later admitted to his role in the conspiracy to murder the judge.
Powell in the 2000s represented firms and executives involved in the Enron scandal, including the accounting firm Arthur Andersen and former Merrill Lynch executive Jim Brown. She was an outspoken critic of the Enron Task Force prosecutions, and accused prosecutor Andrew Weissmann of overreach. After that, Powell wrote extensively about prosecutorial abuses in the 2014 book Licensed to Lie. The book was noticed by then-Senator Orrin Hatch, who described it as "powerful".
In "Licensed to Lie," Powell contended that prosecutors in the corruption trial of U.S. senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, held in 2008, before federal judge Emmet G. Sullivan in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, intentionally withheld "Brady material" they should have disclosed to the defense and that they returned Rocky Williams, a terminally ill witness, to Alaska, ostensibly so that his testimony would not exonerate Stevens. The senator was subsequently convicted of seven felony counts of corruption for failing to annually declare gifts from VECO owner Bill Allen. The convictions were overturned on appeal, and Attorney General Eric Holder declined to refile the charges.
After publishing her first book, Powell continued writing opinion pieces for right-leaning websites. In 2017, Weissmann joined Robert Mueller's Special Counsel investigation, reviving interest in Licensed to Lie from Newt Gingrich and Sean Hannity. Using her status as a former federal prosecutor, Powell became a leading voice against the Mueller investigation; in a February 2018 op-ed, Powell wrote that retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn should "withdraw his guilty plea" for making false statements to the FBI, alleging "egregious government misconduct". Powell's appearances on Fox News to discuss the Flynn case were noticed by President Donald Trump, and the two spoke on several occasions. To raise money for Flynn's defense, Powell spoke at a November 2018 conference, where she met Flynn's siblings. They agreed that Flynn was the victim of a "deep state plot" and had only pleaded guilty because he was coerced.
Flynn released his law firm of Covington & Burling and retained Powell to serve as his lead attorney in June 2019. On the same day this was disclosed, Powell sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting the "utmost confidentiality" and argued that Flynn's prosecution was due to "corruption of our beloved government institutions for what appears to be political purposes". Among other things, she requested that Barr appoint an outsider to investigate. Six months later, Barr appointed Jeffrey Jensen to conduct an investigation.
The Justice Department filed a motion to drop Flynn's prosecution with presiding federal judge Emmett Sullivan in May 2020. Sullivan did not immediately grant the motion; Powell later requested a writ of mandamus from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to compel Sullivan to drop the case. After an initial ruling in favor of Powell by a three-judge panel of the court, the case was appealed to the full court, which denied the mandamus request in an 8–2 ruling and returned the case to Sullivan's court. Powell had argued to the full court that Sullivan's role was "ministerial", giving him no discretion but to comply with the Justice Department motion, to which judge Thomas Griffith replied: "It's not ministerial and you know it's not. So it's not ministerial, so that means that the judge has to do some thinking about it, right?" Other judges on the court also pushed back on Powell's characterization of a federal judge's role. After Trump pardoned Flynn in November 2020, Sullivan dismissed the case as moot, though he stated he probably would have denied the Justice Department motion had the case proceeded.
Soon after taking the Flynn case, Powell had accused the Justice Department of prosecutorial misconduct against Flynn; in a footnote to a June 2020 court brief, the department described Powell's allegations as "unfounded and provide no basis for impugning the prosecutors from the D.C. United States Attorney's Office". Ultimately, Trump pardoned Flynn in November 2020. According to a Justice Department official, the Justice Department was not consulted about the pardon.
Powell has been described as a proponent of conspiracy theories about Flynn, namely that he was framed by members of the "deep state" who were trying to eject President Donald Trump from office.
Days before the 2020 presidential election, Dennis Montgomery, a software designer with a history of making dubious claims, asserted that a government supercomputer program would be used to switch votes from Trump to Biden on voting machines. Powell promoted the conspiracy theory on Lou Dobbs Tonight on November 6, and again two days later on Maria Bartiromo's Fox Business program, claiming to have "evidence that that is exactly what happened". She also asserted that the CIA ignored warnings about the software, and urged Trump to fire director Gina Haspel. Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), characterized the supercomputer claim as "nonsense" and a "hoax". CISA described the 2020 election as "the most secure in American history", with "no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised".
In the wake of the election, Trump established a legal team to challenge the legitimacy of the results. On November 14, Trump named Rudy Giuliani to lead the team, with Joseph diGenova, Victoria Toensing, Jenna Ellis, and Powell as members of this team. The team proceeded to file numerous lawsuits in several states over alleged vote harvesting, illegal votes, machine errors, vote dumps, and late-counted votes. Precisely how Powell gained prominence in the legal team is unknown, even to some campaign officials. One official claimed Powell "simply showed up at headquarters".
Giuliani and Powell alleged multiple instances of voter fraud in key states at a November 19 press conference. They cited an affidavit—filed by Russell Ramsland and L. Lin Wood on behalf of the Trump campaign—as evidence of manipulated results. In their comparison of votes cast against total voters registered in Michigan, Powell asserted that they found over-voting of "up to 350 percent in some places". However, the affidavit's conclusion was erroneous since it compared the Michigan vote tallies against population data from Minnesota (whose respective abbreviations are MI and MN, a possible source of the error). When The Washington Post independently checked the numbers, no voter discrepancies were found. When questioned the next day, Wood described this as "a simple mistake" and said the affidavit "will be corrected if it hasn't been already".
After Giuliani's segment ended, Powell took the lectern and alleged, without evidence, that an international communist plot to rig the 2020 election had been engineered by Cuba, China, Venezuela, Hugo Chávez (who died in 2013), George Soros, the Clinton Foundation and antifa. She also alleged that Dominion Voting Systems "can set and run an algorithm that probably ran all over the country to take a certain percentage of votes from President Trump and flip them to President Biden". The source for many of these claims appeared to be far right news organization One America News Network (OANN). She also repeated a conspiracy theory—spread by Congressman Louie Gohmert, OANN and others—that election results showing a landslide victory for Trump had been transmitted to the German office of the Spanish electronic voting firm Scytl, after which a company server was supposedly seized in a raid by the United States Army. The US Army and Scytl refuted these claims; Scytl has not had any offices in Germany since September 2019 and does not tabulate US votes. In a March 2021 report, the Justice and Homeland Security Departments flatly rejected accusations of voting fraud conducted by foreign nations.
Later that evening on his Fox News program Tucker Carlson Tonight, conservative commentator Tucker Carlson said he had invited Powell onto the show to provide proof of her allegations. After repeated requests, Powell became angry and said to "stop contacting her", Carlson stated. Carlson's team contacted other figures in the Trump campaign who said that Powell had given them no evidence for her allegations.
In a subsequent interview with Newsmax on November 21, Powell accused Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, of being "in on the Dominion scam" and suggested financial impropriety. Powell additionally alleged that fraud had cost Doug Collins the nonpartisan blanket primary against incumbent Kelly Loeffler in the Senate race in Georgia. She also claimed the Democratic Party had used rigged Dominion machines to defeat Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary, and that Sanders learned of this but "sold out". She said she would "blow up" Georgia with a "biblical" court filing. Powell suggested that candidates "paid to have the system rigged to work for them". On the basis of these claims, Powell called for Republican-controlled state legislatures in swing states to disregard the election results and appoint a slate of "loyal" electors who would vote to re-elect Trump, based on authority supposedly resting in Article Two of the Constitution.
Giuliani and Ellis issued a November 22 statement that Powell was "practicing law on her own" and was not (or was no longer) a part of the Trump legal team. According to The Washington Post, the Trump campaign cut ties with Powell because she was seen as harming Trump's broader legal efforts, and because Trump disliked the coverage she received from Tucker Carlson Tonight. Shortly after the announcement, her client Michael Flynn tweeted that Twitter had suspended her account for twelve hours, and that she agreed with the campaign's announcement and was "staying the course" to prove election fraud. Dominion Voting Systems released a statement refuting Powell's claims of fraud on November 26.
During an Oval Office meeting with Powell, Giuliani, Flynn, and Pat Cipollone on December 18, Trump suggested naming Powell as a special counsel to investigate allegations of election fraud. Most Trump advisors opposed the idea, while Powell characterized them as quitters. The meeting was reportedly heated and included Flynn's proposal for the president to declare martial law. Powell had previously called on the president to invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy military forces.
In May of 2021, Powell continued to express the hope that the election result would be reversed. She spoke at a QAnon conference in Dallas over Memorial Day weekend, where she falsely asserted Trump "can simply be reinstated, that a new Inauguration Day is set", eliciting cheers from the crowd.
While working for Trump, Powell stated she would "release the Kraken", a catchphrase from the 1981 film Clash of the Titans, and the expression spread across Twitter. After the Trump campaign cut ties with Powell, she continued to file independent election lawsuits in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Sources described Powell's election-related filings as filled with significant "sloppy mistakes". In her Georgia lawsuit, she claimed that a computer algorithm took votes from Biden and flipped them to Trump, later amending the filing. In Powell's submissions to district courts in Georgia and Michigan, district was misspelled three different ways on the first pages. Powell's Michigan filing also had numerous formatting errors and misidentified one of her experts. Two Republicans said they had been named as a plaintiff in the Georgia and Wisconsin lawsuits despite not having given permission to be included (although one later agreed to remain as a plaintiff).
Powell's lawsuits cited an anonymous witness, referred to as "Spyder" or "Spider", who alleged that American voting systems were "certainly compromised by rogue actors, such as Iran and China". Spyder's real name was redacted from submitted documents; however, a bookmark in the file revealed his identity to be Joshua Merritt, an IT consultant. Although Powell's filings describe Merritt as a former "military intelligence expert", the United States Army Intelligence Center stated that he never worked in military intelligence and had not finished a training course in military intelligence. Merritt acknowledged that the description was wrong and attributed the error to Powell's clerks. However, Merritt claimed he did finish the training, producing an "unofficial transcript" as evidence.
Powell also presented an affidavit from an individual she described as a former intelligence contractor with knowledge of a foreign conspiracy to subvert democracy, who Powell said needed to remain anonymous to protect their "reputation, professional career and personal safety". The Washington Post identified the individual as pro-Trump podcaster Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, and that parts of the affidavit matched a blog post she had written in November 2019. Maras-Lindeman had served in the Navy for less than a year over two decades earlier, and in a November 2018 civil suit the attorney general of North Dakota accused her of misappropriating funds for personal use from a charitable event she tried to organize. State attorneys asserted that she exaggerated her credentials and used multiple aliases and Social Security numbers in "a persistent effort...to deceive others". Asked about Maras-Lindeman, Powell told the Post: "I don't have the same information you do."
Powell filed a federal lawsuit against Arizona governor Doug Ducey, Arizona secretary of state Katie Hobbs and other Arizona election officials on December 2, alleging that "poll watchers failed to adequately verify signatures on ballots, that Maricopa County ballot dispute referees were partisan, that Dominion backups had no chain of custody, and the Dominion machines themselves suffered from errors during state evaluations." The plaintiffs asked the court to decertify Arizona's election results or order that Arizona certify Trump electors. On December 9, U.S. district judge Diane Humetewa ruled that Powell's plaintiffs lacked legal standing and that the allegations of impropriety were "sorely wanting of relevant or reliable evidence", instead being "largely based on anonymous witnesses, hearsay, and irrelevant analysis of unrelated elections". The judge singled out the fraud allegations being put forth, writing that they "fail in their particularity and plausibility" and that there would be "extreme, and entirely unprecedented" harm to Arizona's more than 3 million voters to entertain Powell's lawsuit "at this late date". Powell filed an appeal of the lawsuit's dismissal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in December, which scheduled the due date for the opening brief to be two months after the inauguration. That month, Powell also filed an emergency petition with the United States Supreme Court seeking an extraordinary writ of mandamus for intervention in the case. The petition was denied without comment on March 1, 2021, ending the matter.
Powell and Lin Wood filed a lawsuit against Georgia governor Brian Kemp and other state officials on November 25, alleging that Dominion Voting Systems was used to rig votes for Biden. The plaintiffs asked the court to halt the certification of elections results and order Kemp to certify Trump as the winner in Georgia. U.S. district judge Timothy Batten issued a temporary restraining order on November 29 that voting machines in Georgia's Cobb, Gwinnett, and Cherokee counties were to preserve their data, after Wood had argued to retain "this information on a very limited basis". Powell appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to expand the restraining order. A three-judge panel unanimously dismissed Powell's appeal on December 4, citing a failure to prove that the restraining order caused serious harm. The panel also indicated that the original lawsuit, in which Powell also sought to have voting machines inspected, was "considerably delayed" by the appeal.
Powell's evidence in the Georgia lawsuit included an affidavit from Ron Watkins, a former administrator of 8chan/8kun, the online home of QAnon. In his affidavit, Watkins stated that his reading of an online user guide for Dominion Voting Systems software led him to conclude that election fraud might be "within the realm of possibility". Watkins did not provide any legitimate evidence of fraud. Powell also claimed that "a certificate from the [Georgia] Secretary of State was awarded to Dominion Voting Systems but is undated." However, the attached certificate had apparently been edited to remove the date; the actual certificate is dated and available publicly.
Batten dismissed the case in a ruling from the bench on December 7. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to bring the case, filed the case too late (as the Dominion machines were adopted months earlier), and filed the case in the wrong venue, the appropriate venue being a state court. Batten also stated that the relief sought by Powell was impossible to grant. The plaintiffs filed an appeal (Case No. 20-14579) of Batten's decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on December 8. Powell also appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied a motion to expedite the case. She dropped the lawsuit on January 19, 2021, one day before Biden's inauguration.
Powell filed a lawsuit against Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and other state officials on November 25, alleging a variety of violations of the election code and asking the court to decertify the state's election results or certify them for Trump. In the lawsuit, Powell submitted a witness's declaration that Joe Biden had "received more than 100% of the votes" in Edison County; however, there is no Edison County in Michigan or any other U.S. state. There is an Edison Township in Minnesota, leading to speculation that the information was again taken from a list of Minnesota precincts.
U.S. district judge Linda V. Parker denied the requested relief on December 7, stating that the plaintiffs had only offered "theories, conjecture, and speculation" of potential vote switching. The judge also declared that the "ship has sailed" for most of the relief requested by the plaintiffs, while the rest "is beyond the power of any court". Furthermore, Parker wrote that the relief requested would "greatly harm the public interest" and felt that the plaintiffs' motive for filing the case was not to win, but rather to shake "people's faith in the democratic process and their trust in our government". Powell has filed an appeal of the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied a motion for expedited review of the case. The city of Detroit has called for sanctions against the plaintiffs in the case as well as their counsel, requesting that Powell and the other attorneys be disbarred for "trying to use this court’s processes to validate their conspiracy theories". Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel filed a similar motion on January 28, 2021, accusing Powell and three Michigan lawyers of violating their oaths by attempting to overturn Biden's victory. On February 1, 2021, Nessel, along with Michigan governor Whitmer and Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson, filed complaints with the State Bar of Texas seeking Powell's disbarment.
Powell filed a federal lawsuit against the Wisconsin Elections Commission on December 1, claiming that Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic were used to conduct electronic ballot-stuffing and rig votes for Joe Biden. The lawsuit asked the court to decertify the state's election results or declare Donald Trump the winner of the state. The lawsuit mistakenly demanded the release of video footage from a voting center in Michigan and made erroneous references to the election in Georgia and the Georgia state legislature. U.S. district judge Pamela Pepper filed a December 2 order noting that while an "expedited" injunction was sought, the initial filings did not "indicate whether the plaintiffs are asking the court to act more quickly or why", and did not request a hearing or propose a briefing schedule. Pepper dismissed the case on December 9, writing that the "federal court has no authority or jurisdiction to grant the relief the remaining plaintiff seeks", and that the litigation on behalf of the plaintiff was "sometimes odd and often harried" and ultimately failed to establish why a federal case was appropriate. Pepper also repeatedly stated that the plaintiff did not have legal standing to bring the case and concluded that granting the relief would be unconstitutional. Powell then applied for a writ of mandamus from the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected her petition on March 1, 2021 to end the lawsuit; Powell said the court's decision "completes the implosion of each of our three branches of government into the rubble of a sinkhole of corruption".
Dominion Voting Systems sent a letter to Powell on December 16, 2020, demanding she publicly retract her baseless allegations about the company. Shortly thereafter, the Trump legal team instructed dozens of staff members to preserve all documents relating to Dominion, Powell and others for any future litigation. Smartmatic sent a similar demand letter to conservative television outlets and within days Fox News, its sister network Fox Business and Newsmax broadcast segments walking back conspiracy allegations they had previously promoted.
On January 8, 2021, Dominion sued Powell for defamation and asked for over $1.3 billion in damages. On February 4, 2021, Smartmatic filed a defamation lawsuit that accused Powell, Fox News, some hosts at Fox News, and Rudy Giuliani of engaging in a "disinformation campaign" against the company, and asked for $2.7 billion in damages.
On March 22, 2021, lawyers defending Powell against Dominion's lawsuit filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. They argued that "no reasonable person would conclude that the statements [by Powell about the 2020 election] were truly statements of fact". Instead, “it was clear to reasonable persons that Powell’s claims were her opinions and legal theories", argued the lawyers. Furthermore, the lawyers claimed that Dominion could not prove that Powell took action with "actual malice", because "she believed the allegations then and she believes them now".
Powell has been described by some sources as a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, a far-right conspiracy theory which alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against former president Donald Trump, who is fighting the cabal. Upon leaving Trump's legal team, Powell was embraced by QAnon followers, many of whom had become discouraged that years of predictions of a Trump landslide victory and coming revelations about his enemies had not materialized. Powell has retweeted major QAnon accounts and catchphrases and appeared on QAnon shows on YouTube, but has denied knowledge of QAnon.
On January 8, 2021, Twitter permanently suspended the accounts of Powell, Michael Flynn and others. A statement from Twitter said this development was in line with their policies on "coordinated harmful activity".
In November 2020, Powell established Legal Defense Fund for the American Republic, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization with stated purpose to collect funds to help prosecute fraud in U.S. elections.
Powell has written opinion pieces for The New York Observer, The Daily Caller, The Hill, National Review, Fox News, and media organizations and conservative content producers. She has published two books:
In addition, she has published several journal articles on law practice. Examples include:
Powell has a son from a marriage that ended in divorce "decades ago". In 2004, she founded a non-profit for victims of domestic violence. She has participated in volunteer work for women's shelters and other charities. Powell served as executive producer on the 2013 drama Decoding Annie Parker, providing guidance to help bring the film to a commercial release. The film tells the story of Annie Parker and the discovery of the BRCA1 breast cancer gene. Powell oversaw fundraising screenings for the film that raised approximately $1 million for breast cancer charities. Powell was not recalled as "being a staunch conservative or even very political" by people who interacted with her during her time in Asheville, North Carolina.
Your false accusations about Dominion are defamatory per se and have exposed you, the entities you control, and the Trump Campaign to substantial legal risk for defamation. As a result of your false accusations, Dominion has suffered enormous harm, and its employees have been stalked, have been harassed, and have received death threats. For the safety of Dominion's employees and for the sake of the truth and confidence in American democracy, we demand that you immediately and publicly retract your false accusations and set the record straight. If you refuse to do so and instead choose to stand by your defamatory falsehoods, that will be viewed as additional evidence of actual malice.
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