"I'm going to release the Kraken," former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell declared in an interview with a credulous Lou Dobbs on Fox Business a couple of weeks ago. She was referring to the overwhelming evidence that supposedly would validate her claim that the presidential election was stolen by Joe Biden through a massive fraud involving "hundreds of thousands" (or possibly "millions") of votes.
Last week Powell followed through on her threat by filing federal lawsuits challenging the election results in Michigan and Georgia. They are at least as hideous as the beast of legend and equally mythical.
Although the Trump campaign distanced itself from Powell on November 21, it was still presenting her as a member of its "elite strike force team" two days before that. Both the president himself and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have repeatedly embraced key aspects of her elaborate conspiracy theory, and they continue to do so. During his bizarre press conference on November 19, Giuliani accepted and amplified Powell's story about fraud-facilitating voting machines and fabricated ballots, citing the affidavits she had collected as an important part of the president's case that Biden did not really win the election. So when we look at Powell's evidence, we are also looking at Trump's evidence.
I will focus on Powell's Michigan lawsuit, which alleges "a massive election fraud" aimed at "illegally and fraudulently manipulating the vote count to manufacture an election of Joe Biden as President of the United States." This scheme purportedly included "the unlawful counting, or manufacturing, of hundreds of thousands of illegal, ineligible, duplicate or purely fictitious ballots in the State of Michigan," representing "a multiple of Biden's purported lead in the State."
Powell's evidence overlaps a lot with affidavits that were already submitted in a Michigan lawsuit filed by the Great Lakes Justice Center on behalf of two Republican poll watchers. When he rejected that lawsuit on November 13, Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny said the affidavits provided "no basis" for ordering an independent audit or issuing an injunction against certification of the election results in Detroit.
In one of those affidavits, Melissa Carone, a Republican who was working at Detroit's TCF Center, the convention center where votes were counted, as an I.T. contractor for Dominion Voting Systems (yes, the same company that supposedly supplies fraud-facilitating software), said she "witnessed nothing but fraudulent actions take place." The irregularities allegedly included a cover-up aimed at concealing the "loss of vast amounts of data" and "untrained counter tabulating machines that would get jammed four to five times per hour."
Kenny noted that "Ms. Carone's description of the events at the TCF Center does not square with any of the other affidavits"; that "there are no other reports of lost data, or tabulating machines that jammed repeatedly every hour during the count"; and that "neither Republican nor Democratic challengers nor city officials substantiate her version of events." He concluded that "the allegations simply are not credible." Yet here is Carone again, presented by Powell as one tentacle of her Kraken.
Kenny found that other affidavits were based on misunderstandings, offered unsubstantiated suspicions, or failed to make specific, checkable allegations. There is more of the same in the affidavits offered by Powell.
One example of a misunderstanding was the claim that absentee ballots had been backdated to make it seem as if they arrived earlier than they actually had. As Kenny noted, former Michigan Elections Director Christopher Thomas "explains that this action completed a data field inadvertently left blank during the initial absentee ballot verification process," and "the entries reflected the date the City received the absentee ballot." Yet here is Republican poll watcher Jessica Connarn, in an affidavit submitted by Powell, darkly reporting that an election worker "stated to me that she was being told to change the date on ballots to reflect that the ballots were received on an earlier date."
The previous lawsuit also featured complaints from Republican poll challengers who said they were treated rudely and inappropriately by Detroit election workers. Powell covers that base too. In a handwritten affidavit with multiple crossouts, for example, Alexandra Seely says election workers "would not take out the log to record my challenges," so "I had to write names and ballot numbers on my own." She adds that she "was harassed and threatened to be thrown out multiple times." At one point, she reports, "they told everyone to go to lunch if they haven't ate." But when poll watchers returned after eating, "they would not allow them back in and said they were at maximum capacity."
Kenny addressed a similar complaint in his ruling. According to two affidavits, he noted, "Democratic challengers were also prohibited from reentering the room because the maximum occupancy of the room had taken place. Given the COVID-19 concerns, no additional individuals could be allowed into the counting area."
Powell's lawsuit also includes an affidavit from Trump campaign volunteer Kayla Toma, who says she received troubling phone calls and emails from "poll challengers, poll watchers, or concerned voters." These secondhand reports include malfunctioning ballot-counting machines, rudeness to poll watchers, a machine that was "preemptively shut down" by an election worker who said "they could just tell when a machine was about to jam," and "containers/coolers in the polling location which could have contained ballots."
As evidence of fabricated ballots, Powell offers an affidavit from Matt Ciantir, who says he was walking his dog on "the afternoon following the election" when he saw "a young couple" in their late teens or early 20s transfer several "very large clear plastic bags" from their van to a "running USPS vehicle." He thought that was "odd," because "they did not walk inside the post office like a normal customer to drop of [sic] mail." Rather, "it was as if the postal worker was told to meet and standby until these large bags arrived." Another "oddity" was "the appearance of the couple": "After the drop, they were smiling, laughing at one another."
Ciantir took pictures of the bags "in an indiscriminate way" because he thought they could contain "ballots going to the TCF center or coming from the TCF center." But he "didn't get a chance to snap a license plate of the van nor the couple." The implication, I think, is that the highly sophisticated conspirators who rigged the election against Trump hired giggling teenagers to transport bags of phony ballots and load them into a truck in broad daylight.
"Patriots are coming forward every day, all day, faster than we can collect their information," Powell told Dobbs. If these affidavits represent the best Powell can do, you have to wonder about the quality of the "information" she decided to leave out.
Powell, joined by Trump and Giuliani, claims Dominion Voting Systems played a key role in denying the president his rightful victory. At the heart of that allegation is a redacted affidavit from an unnamed source who calls himself "an adult of sound mine" and claims to have worked for "the national security guard detail of the President of Venezuela." In that capacity, he says, he learned that President Hugo Chavez had commissioned Smartmatic (a different company) to "create and operate a voting system that could change the votes in elections from votes against persons running the Venezuelan government to votes in their favor in order to maintain control of the government." Although Powell calls this document the "Dominion Whistleblower Report," Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Poulsen notes, "the voting software used in Venezuela has no connection to Dominion, and wasn't used anywhere in Michigan."
Another affiant cited by Powell averred that "data manipulation by artificial means" was clear from the way that Trump's early leads in battleground states shrank as more votes were counted. In Pennsylvania, for example, "President Trump's lead of more than 700,000" was "reduced to less than 300,000 in a few short hours, which does not occur in the real world without an external influence." The same affiant cited another example of suspicious tallies in "Edison County, MI," a jurisdiction that does not exist.
Newsweek notes several other errors in Powell's lawsuits:
The 104-page suit detailing allegations of fraud in Georgia and the 75-page document focusing on Michigan both contain a series of typos, including spelling "district" incorrectly twice in the Georgia suit's opening line. In the Michigan lawsuit, the court name is also misspelled in the top line to read "Eastern Distrct of Michigan."
The documents misspell the name of William Briggs, one of Powell's key expert witnesses, incorrectly referring to him as "Williams Briggs" and "William Higgs."
The Michigan document contains a number of pages where entire sentences do not have any spaces between the words.
While mistakes like these obviously do not go the heart of Powell's allegations, they do reflect a general lack of care. We will see what the courts make of her claims. But even if the lawsuits are quickly dismissed, it probably will not weaken the faith of Trump supporters who still believe he actually won.
Update: Today Powell filed another lawsuit in Wisconsin. It names as a plaintiff Derrick Van Orden, an unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate who said his inclusion in the lawsuit was a surprise to him. "I learned through social media today that my name was included in a lawsuit without my permission," Van Orden said on Twitter. "To be clear, I am not involved in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the election in Wisconsin."
Update II: "To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election," Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press today. Alluding to Powell-style claims, he added: "There's been one assertion that would be systemic fraud, and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far we haven't seen anything to substantiate that."
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