Previously, Sidney Powell has expressed views that align with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory, while many of her election fraud claims initially spread through QAnon circles.
Despite a string of defeats in courtrooms around the country and some Republicans telling them to give up the fight, President Donald Trump’s legal team continues to baselessly claim that President-elect Joe Biden’s victory was due to widespread election fraud. On Thursday, November 19, Trump’s legal team presented their case in a press conference that was rich in conspiracy theory but light in evidence.
Days later, one member of that legal team, Sidney Powell, was publicly dismissed in what some saw as an effort by Trump’s lawyers to distance themselves from the most conspiratorial figure. Previously, Powell has expressed views that align with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory, while many of her election fraud claims initially spread through QAnon circles.
What did Powell say at the press conference?
During the Trump legal team’s press conference on November 19, which CNN described as “wild, tangent-filled and often contentious,” Powell never directly cited Q or the conspiracy theory. However, at least part of her claim relied on a conspiracy theory pushed by Ron Watkins, the son of Jim Watkins, who some believe could be the person (or one of the people) behind QAnon.
During the press conference, Powell claimed that votes were changed using a software program named Dominion:
“The Dominion Voting Systems, the Smartmatic technology software, and the software that goes in other computerized voting systems here as well, not just Dominion, were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chávez to make sure he never lost an election after one constitutional referendum came out the way he did not want it to come out.”
An Associated Press (AP) fact check determined there was no link between Dominion and Chavez, who died in 2013. Other claims that Powell made, including that the software was designed to “flip” votes and that Trump won by a landslide, were also labeled false.
(Biden’s popular vote total now stands at over six million more than Trump’s, the second-largest popular vote margin of the 21st century after President Barack Obama’s win in 2008.)
The unsupported conspiracy theory that Dominion voting machines were used to change votes has been widely disseminated in far-right circles. The same week as the press conference, the pro-Trump One American News Network’s Chanel Rion produced a 30-minute report on the theory entitled “Dominion-izing the Vote” that included an interview with Ron Watkins.
On Saturday night, the day before Powell was dismissed from the Trump legal team, the president tweeted the OAN Dominion segment.
The dismissal of Sidney Powell
On Sunday, November 22, the Trump legal team released a joint statement from Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, both personal lawyers for Trump and legal advisers for the Trump campaign. The three-sentence statement formally established that Powell was not part of the legal team:
“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.”
The abrupt dismissal of Powell, who had just days earlier spoken on behalf of Trump’s legal team, suggests the president was unhappy with her performance on Thursday. Josh Dawsey, the White House correspondent for The Washington Post, tweeted that Trump had “told allies Sidney Powell was too much, even for him, after Thursday.”
The fact that Trump apparently no longer found Powell “helpful” in his efforts to overturn the election results raises many questions about what changed. Just a week earlier, Trump had tweeted that Powell was part of “a truly great team” that would be defending “OUR RIGHT to FREE and FAIR ELECTIONS!”
Following the announcement from Trump’s legal team, Powell released her own statement in which she said she agreed with the campaign’s statement and had never officially been part of the team. After rehashing some of her points from the Thursday press conference, she added she would continue her efforts to reveal election fraud and asked for readers to make a “non tax-deductible contribution.”
Why was Sidney Powell removed from the Trump legal team?
While the Trump campaign has given no official reason for Powell’s removal, it could relate to her open embrace of conspiracy theories, especially those related to QAnon.
Ben Collins, an NBC reporter who has been responsible for most of the in-depth reporting on QAnon, tweeted on Sunday, “Sidney Powell was probably the most powerful person to have ever believed in deep, mystic, devout QAnonism. Her Twitter profile picture is a reference to The Storm, which is the roundup and execution of Democrats in the Q world.”
Powell’s profile picture for her Twitter account features her walking with Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was removed from his position after it was discovered he had failed to disclose contacts with Russian agents. Behind the two is an image of a lightning storm, a reference to the supposed “storm” that the anonymous Q claims is coming for the “Deep State.”
In 2019, Powell joined Flynn’s legal team to help him fight the charges brought against him for lying to the FBI. At the time, Trump praised the hire, tweeting, “General Michael Flynn … has not retained a good lawyer, he has retained a GREAT LAWYER, Sidney Powell. Best Wishes and Good Luck to them both!”
The charges against Flynn were eventually dropped by the Department of Justice (DOJ) after Attorney General William Barr intervened. The decision to drop the charges against Flynn angered some in the DOJ and led to accusations that Barr was corrupting the department.
Prior to his brief tenure in the Trump White House, Flynn earned the rank of a three-star general in the United States Army. He has since become a central figure in the QAnon conspiracy theory, having been repeatedly mentioned in the so-called QDrops. For that reason, many QAnon supporters include three stars in their profile names on Twitter, as Powell does.
On July 4, Flynn tweeted a video of himself with five others reciting an oath of service to the US. Though the oath was the same that members of Congress swear upon taking office, Flynn added the phrase “Where we go one, we go all.” That expression, often shortened to the hashtag #WWG1WGA, is a well-established Q phrase. Flynn tagged Powell in that tweet.
If Powell’s embrace of conspiracy theories was her undoing, it would be ironic considering Trump’s own fondness for sharing unfounded beliefs. In addition to spreading conspiracy theories such as the “birtherism” claim that Obama was born in Kenya and Obamagate, Trump has previously retweeted accounts associated with QAnon.
During an NBC News town hall in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign, Trump was asked if he disavowed the QAnon movement. The president responded with annoyance to the question, saying he knew “nothing about QAnon” but that he knew “they are very much against pedophilia.” He then changed the subject to the alleged violence of Antifa.
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