Former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, who is fighting sanctions against her in Michigan, complains in her appeal that the federal judge who approved them "does everything possible" to make her and her colleagues seem like "overwrought, dangerous lunatics." If you watched the bizarre news conference that Powell and other members of the campaign's "elite strike force team" held a couple of weeks after the 2020 presidential election, or any of her numerous TV interviews regarding the imaginary criminal conspiracy that she said had denied Donald Trump his rightful victory, you know that she does not need any help to look crazy.
Powell came off as a lunatic because she always seemed to sincerely believe the nonsense she was spouting: that Democrats across the country had used fraud-facilitating election software and phony ballots to steal the election for Joe Biden in an elaborate scheme that somehow involved deceased Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, Dominion Voting Systems, and "the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China." So it is a bit startling to read these words in the brief that Powell and fellow lawyer Howard Kleinhendler filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit this week (emphasis added): "Millions of Americans believe the central contentions of the complaint to be true, and perhaps they are."
Powell and Kleinhendler are referring to the federal lawsuit they filed in Michigan on November 25, 2020, which sought to overturn the presidential election results in that state and included all the basic elements of the fantasy she had been publicly pushing for weeks. Now Powell—who famously and appropriately likened the evidence supporting her conspiracy theory to a mythical beast, saying, "I'm going to release the Kraken"—is conceding that the creature might not exist after all.
This is not the first time that Powell has backtracked from the tall tale she told over and over again after the election. When Dominion sued her and other prominent promoters of that story for defamation last year, seeking $1.3 billion in compensatory and punitive damages, she argued that her allegations against the company were not actionable because "no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact."
Powell said Dominion's complaint proved her point. "Plaintiffs themselves characterize the statements at issue as 'wild accusations' and 'outlandish claims,'" she noted in her March 22 brief seeking dismissal of the company's lawsuit. "They are repeatedly labelled 'inherently improbable' and even 'impossible.' 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." She thus implied that the "millions of Americans" who bought this story were not "reasonable people," which is fair enough but not what you would expect the Kraken Keeper to say.
Two months later, Powell backtracked from her backtracking. "I don't think [Dominion] realized that some of us litigators were going to catch on and hold their feet to the fire and expose what really happened," she said during the "For God & Country: Patriot Roundup" gathering in Dallas on Memorial Day weekend. She predicted that Dominion's lawsuit would be dismissed because "we meant what we said, and we have the evidence to back it up." If the lawsuit proceeds, she added, "then we will get discovery against Dominion, and we will be on offense."
Now Powell is backtracking from her backtracking of her backtracking. Her preposterous claims may or may not have been true, she says, but the fact that they were widely accepted supports her argument that she should not be punished for making them in federal court.
When U.S. District Judge Linda Parker rejected Powell's Michigan lawsuit on December 7, 2020, she said it was based on "nothing but speculation and conjecture." Last August, Parker took the further step of ordering Powell and eight other attorneys who were involved in the lawsuit to pay the defendants' legal expenses and complete 12 hours of remedial legal education. She also said she was "referring the matter for investigation and possible suspension or disbarment" to the "appropriate disciplinary authority" in each jurisdiction where the nine attorneys practice law.
"It is one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election," Parker wrote. "It is another to take on the charge of deceiving a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated. This is what happened here."
Powell is asking the 6th Circuit to overturn Parker's order, arguing that the judge misapplied the legal standards for sanctions. Her appeal portrays her as a conscientious lawyer who did her job as well as she could in a short time frame. In this telling, Powell was merely representing clients—Republican electors and party officials—with credible concerns about the way the presidential election was conducted in Michigan.
If it turned out that her clients' claims were not true, Powell says, that is not her fault. Nor should she be blamed for the errors, misconceptions, false statements, wild surmises, and evidence-free insinuations in the affidavits she submitted to support those claims, many of which she lifted from other, similarly unsuccessful lawsuits without even "minimal vetting," as Parker put it.
Given Powell's conspicuous role in concocting and promoting the story of a stolen election, this attempt to dodge responsibility is audacious even for someone who confidently and repeatedly asserted, based on evidence that she was always about to reveal, that Trump actually won a second term. Powell, who told that story publicly every chance she got, is now pretending she was an innocent bystander. Parker "treats every single Appellant exactly the same, despite widely varying levels of involvement," she complains. "No consideration is given to the role played by Appellants' clients and any affiants who may have lied."
Powell also tries to shift blame onto Lin Wood, an erstwhile ally who signed onto the Michigan lawsuit. At a hearing that Parker convened last July, Wood claimed he did not know his name was on the briefs in the lawsuit until he read a newspaper article about the motion for sanctions against him.
"I actually did not know at the time that my name was going to be included," Wood said, "but I certainly told Ms. Powell in discussions that I would help her if she needed me in any of these cases, and in this particular matter apparently I was never needed, so I didn't have anything to do with it." Powell contradicted Wood, saying she never would have used his name without asking him first. Parker concluded that "Wood is not credible," saying "the Court does not believe that Wood was unaware of his inclusion as counsel in this case until a newspaper article alerted him to the sanctions motion filed against him." She noted that Wood had publicly bragged about his participation in the Michigan lawsuit.
In her 6th Circuit brief, Powell notes that Parker "spent page after page excoriating [Wood] and calling [him] a liar"—"and, at least on the District Court's account of his extrajudicial statements, an unrepentant one." She suggests that Wood, who said he did absolutely nothing to assist the lawsuit, is more culpable than Kleinhendler and two other attorneys who "did not sign the complaint" but "were merely listed as 'Of Counsel'" and a fourth attorney who "was not even listed as that on the complaint."
This attempt to throw Wood under the bus says more about the falling out between him and Powell than it does about her own responsibility for what Parker called "a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process." Whatever the merits of Powell's legal arguments regarding sanctions, it is clear by now that she cannot be trusted even to stick with her own phony story. Her Kraken is dying a slow, painful death, but she is unwilling to put it out of its misery or even acknowledge that it was hers to begin with.