ATLANTA – Conservative attorney Sidney Powell has been unrelenting in her battle on behalf of President Donald Trump and the Americans who have pledged their faith in him, regardless of the facts of the 2020 election – namely, that Joe Biden won.
She’s filed a series of lawsuits in battleground states that have been rejected by the courts and even, apparently, was too much for Trump – she was dropped from his campaign legal team last month after making incorrect statements about the voting process and promising to “blow up” Georgia with a “biblical” lawsuit. But she continues to press forward on Trump's behalf, leading some observers to criticize her for providing false hope to the president's supporters and to question her true motives.
“I’m going to release the Kraken,” Powell said in a Fox Business interview in mid-November, an apparent reference to the film “Clash of the Titans” in which Zeus gives the order to release the mythical sea monster.
Powell did not immediately respond to a voicemail left Thursday at her Dallas law firm.
A former federal prosecutor now in private practice, Powell has played significant roles in some major cases, like defending white-collar executives in the fallout from the collapse of Enron, and she’s been outspoken about what she sees as federal overreach in law enforcement.
She attracted a following in conservative circles in recent years with her attacks against special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors. The caricature she created of overzealous and unethical law enforcement officials lined up with Trump’s own talking points against Mueller and made her a familiar presence on Fox News.
But her star turn came when she defended Gen. Michael Flynn, whose case was eventually dropped by the Justice Department in a stunning move.
Despite being tossed off the president’s legal team, Powell has continued to push his claim that the election was stolen.
She filed her lawsuit in Georgia the day before Thanksgiving, one of a group of similar “Kraken” suits — including in Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona — that allege widespread fraud in seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election. As they were filed, lawyers across the country reacted on social media, some puzzling about her strategy and others outright mocking her in paragraph-by-paragraph analysis.
In addition to recycling debunked claims, the filings are sloppy — riddled with typos, factual mistakes and other errors.
In an analysis of Powell’s Georgia lawsuit in the Daily Report legal newspaper, Atlanta lawyer Andrew Fleischman argued that the Kraken metaphor is apt: “In ‘Clash of the Titans,’ everyone talks about the Kraken. Everyone is afraid of the Kraken. And yet the Kraken gets only gets about five minutes of screen time before being soundly defeated.”
U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten promptly dismissed the Georgia suit at the end of an hourlong hearing Monday. The suits in Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona met similar fates. Powell is vowing to fight on in appeals.
The repeated failure of her efforts is not surprising given that election officials have repeatedly said there's no evidence of widespread errors or fraud and the lawsuits don't seem to have a coherent legal strategy that could lead to the outcome they seek, several legal experts said.
“It’s hard to believe that the lawyers actually believe they’re going to win," New York University law professor Stephen Gillers said. “The reason you file a lawsuit is to win. But when their loss rate is as high as it is, one looks for another explanation for what they’re doing.”
That alternate motive isn't entirely clear, he said. It could be a fundraising push, with the ongoing fight allowing the president to continue asking his supporters for money, or they could be trying to delay state certification of electors in an attempt to have state lawmakers appoint a slate of electors who would vote for the president, he said.
Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, offered another possibility, suggesting that Powell might be seeking to “satisfy the president's need for action related to grievance.”
“This is the equivalent of a wartime general facing certain and complete defeat screaming at the troops somebody do something,” he said. “So maybe this is an attempt for somebody to do something.”
But even if it is almost certain the legal challenges won't affect the election results, they are a threat to democracy, which depends on the belief that elections are fair, Levitt said.
“The continuing litigation is continuing to convince millions of Americans that something was stolen from them when it absolutely was not,” he said. “Right now what the litigation is helping to teach Americans is that they shouldn’t have to ever mentally prepare for the possibility that they might lose a fair election. That’s immensely dangerous.”
The message is resonating with some who are angry about Trump's loss.
Powell appeared Dec. 2 at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Alpharetta, a suburb north of Atlanta, alongside prominent Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, who has teamed up with her on the Kraken suits and filed his own federal lawsuit challenging the outcome of the election in Georgia.
Wood invited questions from the audience. The first woman to climb onstage to ask a question turned to Powell and said, “First of all, Sidney, you’re my hero.” Then she asked for advice: “What should we say -- give us some responses to give -- to friends or loved ones who think we’re crazy.”
Powell acknowledged that divisions run deep and encouraged her fans to have “calm, factual” conversations with their friends and loved ones. That's good advice, but it's hard to square with the baseless allegations and conspiracy theories Powell has been pushing, Levitt said.
The sloppiness of Powell's filings and the repeated findings by judges that her claims lack merit or are filed in the wrong jurisdiction are not good for her professional reputation, but she's unlikely to face disciplinary action, experts said.
There are rules of civil procedure and ethics rules that forbid lawyers from filing cases with no factual or legal basis, and judges can impose sanctions for frivolous or vexatious lawsuits or motions. But it's pretty rare, and judges might be more forgiving in cases like election-related lawsuits, where lawyers have less time to gather facts and draft their pleadings, Fordham University law professor Bruce Green said.
“In theory, Ms. Powell could face discipline if courts concluded that what she was doing was horrifyingly bad, but that is just unlikely,” he said. "I think the courts and disciplinary authorities are going to let the court of public opinion weigh in.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed reporting.