Sidney Powell seeks distance from Trump before trial in Georgia

Few defenders of Donald J. Trump were as vocal about voter fraud theories after his 2020 defeat as Sidney K. Powell. In high-profile appearances, often alongside other members of Trump’s legal team, she promoted conspiracies involving Venezuela, Cuba and China as well as George Soros, Hugo Chávez and the Clintons, while making baseless claims that voting machines had corrupted millions of votes.

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

That claim is supported by Ms. Powell’s own previous words as well as those of Mr. Trump — and there is ample video evidence that she attended press 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 charges in Georgia against Ms. Powell relate to her role in A Data breach at an election office in rural Coffee County, Georgia. There, the day after the Jan. 6 riots, Trump allies copied sensitive and proprietary software used in voting machines across the state in an unsuccessful hunt for voter fraud.

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

But a number of documents suggest otherwise, including a 392-page file compiled by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and obtained by The New York Times. The file, a result of the agency’s investigation into the data breach, was turned over to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican.

It is not clear whether Mr. Carr will take action because Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis has already filed racketeering charges against Ms. Powell, Mr. Trump and 17 others. Fulton’s indictment accuses them of participating in a “criminal organization” designed to undermine the election results in Georgia.

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

Ms. Powell’s vow during an appearance on the Fox Business Network in 2020 to “release the Kraken,” or a trove of phantom evidence proving Mr. Trump had won, went viral after the election, although 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 actually statements of fact.”

That prompted the office of Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, to say “The Kraken collapses under pressure” and sparked a parody of Ms. Powell on “Saturday Night Live.”

Not everyone is convinced that their behavior resulted in a crime.

“You have to separate crazy theories from criminal conspiracies,” said Harvey Silverglate, a Boston-area attorney and civil liberties advocate who has a unique perspective: He represents John Eastman, another attorney and defendant in the case, and is fellow- Author of a 2019 book with Ms. Powell about prosecutorial overreach.

“That’s the big dividing line in this whole law enforcement process – what’s criminal and what’s crazy, or clearly false or exaggerated,” Mr. Silverglate said.

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

“I think in every jurisdiction — even Washington, D.C. — there will be at least one holdout,” he said.

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

In 2014, she wrote a book called License to Lie: Exposing Corruption in the Justice Department. She called it an expose of a department full of prosecutors who used “violent, illegal and unethical tactics” in their “narcissistic pursuit of power.”

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

Ms. Powell argued in an appearance on Fox News that the case should never have been brought and that the FBI and prosecutors “broke all the rules.” Mr. Trump would pardon Mr. Flynn a few weeks after losing the 2020 election.

According to her testimony to House investigators, Ms. Powell was at the White House on election night and watched the election returns arrive. When they asked what her relationship with Mr. Trump was like, she declined to answer, she said, for reasons of “attorney-client privilege.”

On Nov. 14, Mr. Trump specifically called Ms. Powell a member of his “truly great team” in a tweet. 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 dedicated to fighting voter fraud, among other things.

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 lawyer. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation filing, it was decided that an Atlanta-based technology company, SullivanStrickler, would “collect forensic images of voting machines across the country to support litigation” and that “Powell funded SullivanStrickler’s efforts.”

In late November, the Trump team bristled at Ms. Powell’s wild claims and publicly severed ties. But the split was short-lived; She would make several trips to the White House in the following weeks.

On Dec. 18, Ms. Powell took part in a heated Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, which is detailed in the Georgia indictment as an “overt act” in furtherance of the election interference conspiracy. According to the Georgia indictment, they discussed “seizing voting machines” and possibly name-calling Ms. Powell was appointed special counsel to investigate allegations of election fraud, but the appointment never took place.

On January 7, several Trump allies traveled to Coffee County along with SullivanStrickler employees. “We scanned every damn ballot,” Scott Hall, a Georgia bail bondsman who made the trip, recalled in a recorded phone call 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 and Coffee County election administrator, welcomed the pro-Trump team to the building. However, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation filing makes it clear that the county election board did not formally authorize the visit and that local officials had no authority over the voting equipment. (Ms. Hampton, Ms. Powell and other Fulton County defendants are among those named in the GBI file in the state investigation, as is Katherine Friess, a lawyer who worked with Mr. Giuliani after the election.)

Although SullivanStrickler did not deal exclusively with Ms. Powell, several employees at the firm have alleged that Ms. Powell was the client for the work copying Coffee County election data, according to the GBI investigation.

“The defense’s position that Sidney Powell knew nothing about the violations in Coffee County is absurd,” said Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit over election security in Georgia that covered many of the events in Coffee County brought to light.

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

Mr. Raffensperger, the secretary of state, then replaced Coffee County’s voting machines, saying that “unauthorized access to the machines” violated Georgia law.