Lawyer says ‘no reasonable person’ would believe her election lies
A key member of the legal team that sought to steal the 2020 election for Donald Trump is defending herself against a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit by arguing that “no reasonable person” could have mistaken her wild claims about election fraud last November as statements of fact. In a motion to dismiss a complaint by the large US-based voting machine company Dominion, lawyers for Sidney Powell argued that elaborate conspiracies she laid out on television and radio last November while simultaneously suing to overturn election results in four states constituted legally protected first amendment speech.
“No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact,” argued lawyers for Powell, a former federal prosecutor from Texas who caught Trump’s attention through her involvement in the defense of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Powell falsely stated on television and in legal briefs that Dominion machines ran on technology that could switch votes away from Trump, technology she said had been invented in Venezuela to help steal elections for the late Hugo Chávez.
Those lies were built on empty claims that apparently originated in anonymous comments on a pro-Trump blog, only to be amplified on a global scale by Trump himself in a 12 November tweet in which he wrote in part “REPORT: DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE.”
Citing lost business and reputational damage, Dominion filed a $1.3bn defamation lawsuit against Powell and her colleague on Trump’s legal team, Rudy Giuliani. A Dominion employee separately sued the Trump campaign after receiving death threats.
Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on 6 January in an effort to stop the certification of an election they considered invalid, killing a police officer in violent clashes in which four others died.
But lawyers for Powell argued her false statements about election fraud in the months preceding the Capitol insurrection were unmistakably not presented as true facts.
“It was clear to reasonable persons that Powell’s claims were her opinions and legal theories on a matter of utmost public concern,” her legal motion says. “Those members of the public who were interested in the controversy were free to, and did, review that evidence and reached their own conclusions – or awaited resolution of the matter by the courts before making up their minds.”
The filing brought expressions of disbelief from Trump critics.
“This is her defense. Wow,” tweeted the Republican representative Adam Kinzinger.
“Bad argument!” tweeted Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen. “[Powell] should have gone with an insanity defense due to #TrumpDerangementSyndrome.”
“Shorter Sidney Powell: suckers!” tweeted Charlie Sykes, an editor of the anti-Trump conservative publication the Bulwark.
As Trump fought to reverse his election loss in November, the former president himself reportedly supported Powell’s claims in private – and trumpeted them in public, touting Powell two weeks after the election as a key part of “the legal effort to defend OUR RIGHT to FREE and FAIR ELECTIONS”.
Powell was publicly exiled from the Trump camp a week after that tweet, after she appeared at a news conference hosted by the Republican National Committee alongside Giuliani, whose hair dye memorably ran down his face, and Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis.
The group was “an elite strike force team that is working on behalf of the president and the campaign”, Ellis announced.
Then Powell faced the cameras and claimed to have identified “massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba and likely China in the interference with our elections here in the United States”.
Aides reportedly told Trump that Powell was not helping, and Giuliani and Ellis issued a subsequent statement announcing, “Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump legal team. She is also not a lawyer for the president in his personal capacity.”
But that did not prevent Powell from filing lawsuits the next week on Trump’s behalf in Georgia, Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin.
In her defense against the Dominion defamation lawsuit, Powell argued that whatever “reasonable persons” thought of her wild claims, Dominion had failed to demonstrate that she herself thought them to be false as she spoke them – a key distinction in defamation cases.
“In fact,” Powell’s motion reads, “she believed the allegations then and she believes them now.”
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