It’s hard to overstate the irony that one of the leading instigators and promoters of the 2020 stolen-election narrative, attorney Sidney Powell, who accused so many others of election interference, has now pleaded guilty to … wait for it … election interference.
I met Powell some years ago. And though our interactions were limited, she struck me as a dedicated and conscientious attorney. So, when she appeared on television 10 days after the Nov. 3 election claiming “President Trump won this election in a landslide,” she got my attention. What did she know that others didn’t?
She asserted she would soon “release the Kraken,” i.e., evidence proving that Venezuela and possibly other countries interfered with voting machines to shift hundreds of thousands of votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Yet, after some 60 failed lawsuits challenging the election results, several state election audits that discovered nothing and efforts to gain unauthorized access to voting machines (as in Georgia), we’re still waiting for that evidence.
Election fraud does occur. But the vast majority of successful voter-fraud prosecutions encompass only a small number of fraudulent votes. While fraud can change the outcome of close elections or when there is a very small turnout, it has little impact on elections where millions of people vote.
Of course, other very credible officials looked for widespread fraud but couldn’t find it. Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, announced Dec. 1 that the Justice Department had seen no evidence of widespread fraud sufficient to overturn the results of the election. Barr didn’t say there was no fraud, just no evidence that any fraud that might have occurred would have changed the results. Trump fired him.
In addition, Alyssa Farah, Trump’s then-director of communications, planned to go on television the day after the election to discuss the loss but was told to stand down.
“That wouldn’t be the message. We weren’t going to be acknowledging the loss,” she told Politico. Importantly, she added, “The results of the election almost perfectly aligned with our [Trump campaign] internal polling.”
She resigned in December when it became clear that the White House would be pushing the stolen-election narrative.
Farah also said, “I truly believe the president knew — when I was still in the White House in late November, he knew that he had lost. … And I don’t know if it was the wrong advisers getting to him with bad information or what.”
Given Powell’s plea deal, it looks like it was the wrong advisers with bad information.
Of course, Powell wasn’t alone. Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was right there with her, along with several other advisers. And both Fox News and Newsmax opinionators regularly echoed the stolen-election claims.
Allegations that Dominion Voting Systems’ voting machines were rigged to fraudulently give Biden the victory led to Dominion filing a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News and $1.3 billion against Powell. If either had any evidence of a stolen election, that would have been the time to produce it. Instead, Fox settled the case out of court by paying Dominion $787 million.
In her unsuccessful March 2021 motion for summary dismissal of Dominion’s lawsuit, Powell argued that it’s well recognized that political rhetoric “is often vituperative, abusive and inexact … and political statements are inherently prone to exaggeration and hyperbole.” In other words, the public should have understood that in the heightened political climate Powell was making exaggerated claims.
The problem with that argument is that millions of Americans believed her claims then, and still do. Those voters apparently didn’t catch Powell’s wink.
In a related development, the person slated to be Powell’s co-defendant, Kenneth Chesebro, has also taken a plea deal to a single felony charge of conspiracy. Chesebro’s attorney, Scott Grubman, told reporters, “Mr. Chesebro never believed the ‘Big Lie.’ If you ask Mr. Chesebro today who won the 2020 presidential election, he would say Joe Biden.”
Thus, the Stop the Steal campaign is beginning to collapse, three years after it was instigated. It has been one of the most divisive and destructive movements in modern political history. It was the impetus behind the Jan. 6 raid on the U.S. Capitol, it has made voters more suspicious and political discourse more caustic, and it became a campaign theme of several GOP candidates, many of whom lost easily winnable elections. One positive result: Several states have revisited their election laws and processes and made needed changes.
Under Powell’s plea deal, she must serve six years of probation, pay a $6,000 fine and $2,700 in restitution, and testify “truthfully” in other related cases. And she must write a letter of apology to the residents of Georgia. That’s a start, but who’s going to apologize to the voters of America?