Trump team disavows lawyer who peddled conspiracy theories on voting

By Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer

President Donald Trump’s campaign Sunday disavowed Sidney Powell, one of his lawyers who has pushed false claims of voter fraud, after she made wild accusations that Republican officials had been involved in a payoff scheme to manipulate voting machines.

The repudiation of Powell, which came at the hands of former allies like Rudy Giuliani, added unwanted drama for the president’s legal team at a moment when it is losing case after case, offering a public window into the chaotic nature and amateurish tactics of most of its attempts to fight the election outcome.

Even as many campaign aides, White House advisers and professional lawyers want nothing to do with the claims, a small group of lawyers for Trump’s campaign has presided over a widely mocked, circuslike legal effort to try to invalidate votes and prevent states from certifying their results.

People like Powell and Giuliani have been frequent guests on conservative news programs, where they have made spurious claims that have been rejected by judges or that the Trump campaign has refrained from echoing in court because they lack evidence.

Powell, who was not directly involved in cases the Trump campaign filed in court, appeared with its legal team at a news conference just last week, and had been embraced by the president and many of his allies because of her emphatic and unconditional defense of an array of baseless claims.

On Sunday, though, the Trump campaign reversed course.

“Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own,” it 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.”

In a statement issued to CBS News, Powell said that she understood the statement from Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, another Trump lawyer, and that she would still be filing a lawsuit related to her unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.

The disavowal came a day after a Pennsylvania judge eviscerated arguments that other members of Trump’s legal team had made in court that millions of votes in the state should be invalidated.

Powell was described as a member of the legal team’s “elite strike force” at the news conference Thursday as she laid out an elaborate conspiracy theory about efforts by former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, to essentially rig elections in the United States by using voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems. While Trump has become obsessed with the idea of a global conspiracy, cybersecurity officials from his own government have said there is no evidence that machines were compromised.

Appearing on the conservative network Newsmax on Saturday night, Powell further pushed the conspiracy theory, saying that two top Republicans in Georgia — Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — were taking payoffs as part of the scheme, and that Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia had in fact won his race for Senate against Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

(He did not; Loeffler’s race is heading to a runoff without Collins.) Powell said she planned to file a “biblical” suit in the state.

Two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 are set to determine which party controls the Senate, and Republicans have grown anxious that the Trump campaign’s legal efforts there could affect those races, which are likely to have lower turnout than this month’s general election.

Powell’s claims were widely derided, including by some Trump allies. Chris Christie, the Republican former governor of New Jersey, said on ABC’s “This Week” that the legal team had become a “national embarrassment.” Most of the president’s other lawyers have declined to become involved in his efforts to delay certifying the vote in states.

Trump has been agitated about Giuliani and Powell for a few days, advisers said, complaining about how Powell had sounded at the Thursday news conference, how black rivulets of liquid had dripped down Giuliani’s face, and about how long the appearance had stretched on.

On Saturday and Sunday, several of the president’s advisers urged Trump to part ways with Powell, people briefed on the discussions said. One of those people said that even Giuliani had recognized that she had gone too far.

But Powell also made an easy target for deflection by Giuliani and others, as Trump vented his frustrations about the Pennsylvania judge’s scathing ruling.

Other lawyers for Trump who have largely stayed out of the fray believe Giuliani and Powell have merely been telling the president what he wants to hear. The president latched onto Powell’s claims about votes being switched on Dominion machines in the last two weeks.

The thrust of Powell’s conspiracy theory — that a powerful and vast network of Trump’s enemies cheated him out of victory — has been largely constant, though the cast of perpetrators and accomplices has varied from setting to setting.

In an interview last week on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, where she spoke with few interruptions for nearly 20 minutes, Powell claimed that the voting machines in question had been designed to rig elections.

The day before, on Fox Business, Powell said the conspiracy involved “dead people” who had voted “in massive numbers” — again offering no evidence — and claimed that fraudulent paper ballots were also part of the scheme.

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