For a good long while, many Republicans believed Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham would produce a slew of indictments for the bad actors of the Russia probe. A bushel of bad news always sat just around the corner for James Comey, James Clapper, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, and many others.
Judgement day, however, kept getting postponed. The trove of sealed indictments always seemed to slide just beyond arm’s reach. In the meantime, the Republican Party went P. T. Barnum on Bill Barr, fundraising on the promise of revenge against a whole host of ne’er-do-wells.
President Trump’s reelection campaign released a video on March 24, 2019, lauding Barr’s four-page summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Team Trump’s war cry of “complete and total exoneration” stemmed from Barr’s argument in his report that Mueller did not have sufficient evidence to prosecute obstruction of justice. The attorney general became a celebrity overnight, a cowboy who sipped his water with an aloof look of indifference in the face of pressure, spoke softly and, it was hoped, carried a big stick. Two months after “complete and total exoneration,” Barr attended the Trump International Hotel on the night the venue hosted a fundraiser for a pro-Trump super PAC.
But after a year-and-a-half of imminent indictments, and a lot of fundraising, it became more than evident that the Barr-Dunham probe which provided so much chum for right-wing waters was pure grift. The “deep state” goon squad would never see the inside of a prison cell.
Some accepted the reality of disappointment. Others developed elaborate theories as to why Barr failed to produce results, still holding out hope that the indictments will drop any day now.
Then another investigation came along. One that sparked the hopes of millions of Trump supporters still reeling from an election night gone wrong, one that started off just as promising as the Barr-Durham probe.
Amid a series of irregularities and apparent voter fraud, Sidney Powell, a former federal prosecutor and a member of Trump’s legal team for the election, leaped onto the scene, guns blazing. Just like Barr.
Powell debuted as a superstar sleuth, someone who promised to make sense of and uncover the truth behind what went wrong for Trump on election night. Dominion Voting Systems is Powell’s suspect number one. The electronic voting machine maker experienced a variety of irregularities that, rightly, have people suspicious. Regardless of one’s view of Trump, everyone who votes should be concerned about voter fraud, or else voting no longer matters.
Powell immediately went beyond discussing irregularities to announcing the discovery of a vast, worldwide, systemic plot to smother Trump’s reelection bid in the cradle. She had pierced the veil.
Talking to Maria Bartiromo on Fox News about Dominion, Powell announced Democrats have “invested in it for their own reasons and are using it to commit this fraud to steal votes.” The walls seemed to be closing in on Trump’s enemies for the first time since November 3.
Days went by, hopes remained high, but still nothing material came of Powell’s claims. She then appeared on Fox News with Lou Dobbs to declare on November 13: “I’m going to release the Kraken.” Her sea monster would wrap in its tentacles all the fraud which had occurred, sweeping up “Silicon Valley people, the big tech companies, the social media and even the media companies” in its rampage.
The jury is still out on the Kraken. When will it come, and will it arrive before it’s too late?
Powell appeared again with Bartiromo, in which she reported that Peter Neffenger was involved in Joe Biden’s transition team. Neffenger is the chairman of the board of directors of Smartmatic, a multinational that, like Dominion, specializes in electronic voting systems. Powell claimed Neffenger’s company and Dominion worked together to help Biden.
“He is president and on the board of directors of Smartmatic, and it just so happens he’s on Mr. Biden’s presidential transition team that’s going to be nonexistent, because we’re fixing to overturn the results of the election in multiple states,” she said defiantly. “President Trump won by not just hundreds of thousands of votes but by millions of votes that were shifted by this software that was designed expressly for that purpose.”
What supports her claim? “We have sworn witness testimony of why the software was designed, it was designed to rig elections,” Powell said. “He was fully briefed on it, he saw it happen in other countries, it was exported internationally for profit by the people that are behind Smartmatic and Dominion.”
“They did this on purpose, it was calculated, they’ve done it before,” Powell continued. “We have evidence from 2016 in California. We have so much evidence, I feel like it’s coming in through a fire hose.” Still, no one has yet seen whatever evidence Powell claims to have.
Most recently, Powell produced an affidavit by someone she says was a high-ranking military official once close to the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. This person claims Chavez asked and received from Smartmatic an untraceable fraud system. Chavez, the affidavit reads, “made it clear that the system would have to be set but not leave any evidence to the changed vote for a specific voter and that there would be no evidence to show and nothing to contradict that the name or thumbprint was going with a changed vote.”
There does seem to be a nebulous connection between Dominion Voting Systems and the Venezualean dictator. “Canadian-based Dominion Voting Systems has quietly announced its second acquisition of a major U.S. voting machine company in as many months and, right out of the gate, they’ve lied about it,” investigative journalist Brad Friedman reported in 2010. Friedman added that “the IP for the vast-majority/near-entirety of Sequoia’s voting systems was actually secretly owned by the Hugo Chavez-tied, Venezuelan-based firm, Smartmatic.”
Again, all of this is very nebulous and ought to be the subject of a federal inquiry regardless. It’s not clear whether Powell is helping or hurting that cause yet, but that hasn’t slowed the fundraising train down.
On November 5, she told reporters that the Democrats have “developed a computer system to alter votes electronically.” The next day, the domain for Powell’s “Defending the Republic” legal defense fund was created.
“Over $500,000 must be raised in the next twenty-four hours for these suits to be filed. Millions more will need to be raised to ensure victory,” read an early message on the website.
When Powell represented Michael Flynn, she created a similar fund from which she took her cut, and similarly she made the rounds with it to raise money. Powell told reporters she reduced her rates “dramatically” for Flynn.
Powell promoted her new fund to feed the Kraken on Dobbs’ show.
“People can donate to the fund because I want this fraud fully prosecuted on behalf of the voters and the American people that deserve election integrity and to know that their legal votes count and were not eradicated by fraud or by illegal votes of other people,” she told Dobbs on November 10. “And it’s just gonna take a much more vigorous effort than I see being conducted right now.”
By November 13, the website was updated to read: “Millions of dollars must be raised to defend the Republic as these lawsuits continue to be filed to ensure victory.”
Powell went on to promise her supporters that she would deliver the goods soon enough.
“We’ve got tons of evidence. It’s so much, it’s hard to pull it all together,” Powell said on Newsmax TV over the weekend. “Hopefully, this week we will get it ready to file, and it will be biblical.” The timing of Powell’s bomb drop is likely after all of the states certify and just before the Electoral College meets.
Most recently, the Trump campaign distanced itself from Powell. “Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own,” Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis said in a statement. “She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.”
Powell issued her own statement in turn, acquiescing to the campaign’s decision. “The chips will fall where they may, and we will defend the foundations of this great Republic,” she said. “#KrakenOnSteroids”
The issue with Powell was never that fraud didn’t occur or that she was making it up out of whole cloth, but that her claims are so extraordinary that they would threaten to discredit the case for real fraud if they turned out to be exaggerated or in any way untrue. There are many compelling examples of irregularities involving mail-in ballots, ejected poll observers, and more that are worthy of serious investigating.
But Powell has set the bar so incredibly high above those things now. This is not to say that there is not or could not be some basic truth to some of her claims, but that it is dangerous to build the case for fraud entirely on one person’s shoulders. As a result, “belief” in Powell has become a kind of purity test for some Trump supporters, creating internecine conflicts at the drop of a hat. It’s also preventing the Trump movement from performing any kind of introspection on what might have been some of the campaign’s mistakes.
If Powell’s claims are all true, then there would be no need to consider that perhaps it was a mistake to court rather than tackle the corporate and tech forces now garroting Trump’s last-ditch efforts. If Powell is right, there is no reason to criticize the Trump campaign’s racial-spoils pandering, its failure to keep signature platform promises, or its critical personnel problems. Because the only problem will have been, according to her, that as many as 10 million fraudulent votes and up to 7 million votes were switched from Trump to Biden. The unexpected side effect of all this is an unremittingly uncritical movement that will circle the wagons to defend the most poisonous pills in the White House and viciously attack those who are otherwise allies. Powell’s moment in the limelight is reminding us of the dangers of personality cults.
Powell is running out of time to prove her claims. Trump has already distanced himself from her, and, by extension, her claims. She is a week or two away from either proving everyone wrong or becoming the next empty-handed Bill Barr.