Ahead of Her Georgia Trial, Sidney Powell Seeks Distance From Trump

Few defenders of Donald J. Trump promoted election fraud theories after his 2020 defeat as stridently as Sidney K. Powell. In high-profile appearances, often alongside other members of the Trump legal team, she pushed conspiracies involving Venezuela, Cuba and China, as well as George Soros, Hugo Chávez and the Clintons, while baselessly claiming that voting machines had flipped millions of votes.

But now Ms. Powell, who next week will be one of the first defendants to go to trial in the Georgia racketeering case against Mr. Trump and 17 of his allies, is claiming through her lawyer that she actually “did not represent President Trump or the Trump campaign” after the election.

That claim is undercut by Ms. Powell’s own past words, as well as those of Mr. Trump — and there is ample video evidence of her taking part in news conferences, including one where Rudolph W. Giuliani, then Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, introduced her as one of “the senior lawyers” representing Mr. Trump and his campaign.

Most of the Georgia charges against Ms. Powell relate to her role inadata breach at an elections office in rural Coffee County, Ga. There, on the day after the Jan. 6 riots, Trump allies copied sensitive and proprietary software used in voting machines throughout the state in a fruitless hunt for ballot fraud.

At a recent court hearing, Ms. Powell’s lawyer, Brian T. Rafferty, said that his client “had nothing to do with Coffee County.”

But a number of documents suggest otherwise, including a 392-page file put together by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that was obtained by The New York Times. The file, a product of the agency’s investigation into the data breach, has been turned over to Georgia’s attorney general, Chris Carr, a Republican.

It is not clear that Mr. Carr will take any action, given that Fulton County’s district attorney, Fani T. Willis, has already brought racketeering charges against Ms. Powell, Mr. Trump and 17 others. The Fulton indictment accuses them of participating in a “criminal organization” with the goal of subverting Georgia’s election results.

Brian Rafferty, a lawyer representing Ms. Powell, spoke during a hearing this week.Credit…Pool photo by Alyssa Pointer

Jury selection in Ms. Powell’s trial and that of Kenneth Chesebro, a legal architect of the plan to deploy fake electors for Mr. Trump in Georgia and other swing states, starts on Monday. Ms. Powell and Mr. Chesebro demanded a speedy trial, their right under Georgia law, while Mr. Trump and most other defendants are likely to be tried much later.

Ms. Powell’s vow during a Fox Business Network appearance in 2020 to “release the kraken,” or a trove of phantom evidence proving that Mr. Trump had won, went viral after the election, though the trove never materialized. The next year, after Dominion Voting Systems sued her and a number of others for defamation, Ms. Powell’s lawyers argued that “no reasonable person would conclude” that some of her wilder statements “were truly statements of fact.”

That led the office of Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, to crow that “The Kraken Cracks Under Pressure,” and precipitated a spoof of Ms. Powell on Saturday Night Live.

Not all are convinced that her conduct veered into criminality.

“You have to separate crazy theories from criminal conspiracies,” said Harvey Silverglate, a Boston-area lawyer and civil liberties advocate who has a unique perspective: He is representing John Eastman, another lawyer-defendant in the case, and is a co-author of a 2019 book with Ms. Powell that looked at prosecutorial overreach.

“That’s the big dividing line in this whole prosecution — what is criminal and what is wacky, or clearly erroneous or overreaching,” Mr. Silverglate said.

Ms. Powell, he added, is “in a tougher position” than his own client, because the accusations against her go beyond the notion that she merely gave legal advice to the Trump campaign as it sought to overturn Mr. Biden’s win. But Mr. Silverglate also said he didn’t think prosecutors would win any convictions in the Georgia case or the three other criminal cases against Mr. Trump in New York, Florida and Washington, given how politicized the trials will be.

“I think in any jurisdiction — even Washington, D.C. — you will have at least one holdout,” he said.

Ms. Powell is a North Carolina native and a onetime Democrat who spent a decade as a federal prosecutor in Texas and Virginia before establishing her own defense practice.

In 2014, she wrote a book, “Licensed to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Department of Justice.” She billed it as an exposé of a department riddled with prosecutors who used “strong-arm, illegal, and unethical tactics” in their “narcissistic pursuit of power.”

Ms. Powell appeared on Mr. Trump’s radar when she represented his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who in 2017 pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States during the presidential transition. He later tried to withdraw the plea.

Ms. Powell, appearing on Fox News, argued that the case should never have been brought and that the F.B.I. and prosecutors “broke all the rules.” Mr. Trump would go on to pardon Mr. Flynn a few weeks after losing the 2020 election.

On election night itself, Ms. Powell was at the White House watching the returns come in, according to her testimony to House investigators. When they asked what her relationship with Mr. Trump had been, she declined to answer, she said, because of “attorney-client privilege.”

By Nov. 14, Mr. Trump, in a tweet, specifically referred to Ms. Powell as a member of his “truly great team.” Ms. Powell’s lawyer has pointed out that she was not paid by the Trump campaign. But the Trump connection helped her raise millions of dollars for Defending the Republic, her nonprofit group that is dedicated in part to fighting election fraud.

Around that time, Ms. Powell, Mr. Flynn and other conspiracy-minded Trump supporters began meeting at a South Carolina plantation owned by L. Lin Wood, a well-known plaintiff’s attorney. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation file, it was decided there that an Atlanta-based technology firm, SullivanStrickler, “would be used to capture forensic images from voting machines across the nation to support litigation” and that “Powell funded SullivanStrickler’s efforts.”

By late November, the Trump team grew exasperated with Ms. Powell’s wild claims and publicly cut ties. But the schism was short-lived; she would make several trips to the White House in the weeks that followed.

On Dec. 18, Ms. Powell attended a heated Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani that the Georgia indictment lists as an “overt act” in furtherance of the election interference conspiracy. According to the Georgia indictment, they discussed “seizing voting machines” as well as possibly namingMs. Powell a special counsel to investigate allegations of voter fraud, though the appointment was never made.

Sidney Powell appeared on a screen during a July 2022 hearing of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

On Jan. 7, a number of Trump allies, along with SullivanStrickler employees, traveled to Coffee County. “We scanned every freaking ballot,” Scott Hall, a Georgia bail bondsman who made the trip, recalled in a recorded phone conversation at the time. He pleaded guilty to five misdemeanors last month and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Misty Hampton, a defendant in the racketeering case who was the Coffee County elections administrator, welcomed the Trump-aligned team into the building. But the Georgia Bureau of Investigation file makes clear that the county election board did not officially approve the visit and that local officials lacked authority over the voting equipment. (Ms. Hampton, Ms. Powell and other Fulton County defendants are among the subjects of the state investigation listed in the G.B.I. file, as is Katherine Friess, a lawyer who worked with Mr. Giuliani after the election.)

While SullivanStrickler didn’t deal exclusively with Ms. Powell, a number of the firm’s employees have asserted that Ms. Powell was the client for its work copying the Coffee County election data, according to the G.B.I. investigation.

“The defense’s stance that Sidney Powell was not aware of the Coffee County breaches is preposterous,” said Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, a plaintiff in civil litigation over Georgia’s voting security that unearthed much of what happened in Coffee County.

According to the racketeering indictment, the data copied that day included “ballot images, voting equipment software and personal voter information.” SullivanStrickler invoiced Ms. Powell more than $26,000 for its work, and her organization, Defending the Republic, paid the bill.

Mr. Raffensperger, the secretary of state, subsequently replaced Coffee County’s voting machines and said that “the unauthorized access to the equipment” had violated Georgia law.

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