Three lawyers in the national spotlight for their defense of President Trump scored major public victories before the Nov. 3 election, fueling conservatives’ hopes that they could overturn the loss to Joseph R. Biden.
But two months later, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood and Rudolph W. Giuliani failed in their mission. In the process, judges ruled that they spread unfounded election conspiracy theories that were endorsed by the president in daily tweets. The fraud claims spawned the “Stop the Steal” movement, whose participants rallied in Washington on Jan. 6 and then waged a violent riot at the U.S. Capitol.
None of the three’s election fraud lawsuits — filled with tales of rigged voting machines, China and Hugo Chavez — succeeded in court.
“Good lawyers do not make claims without evidence, and these lawyers don’t have any evidence,” Michael D. Gilbert, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, told The Washington Times. “Perpetrating fraud on the scale these lawyers imagine would require hundreds of officials, including Republicans, across multiple states and branches of government to conspire successfully — no traces, no leaks, no defections. That’s utterly implausible.”
Months earlier, the three, who have not backed off their claims, were basking in their successes.
Ms. Powell, a blunt Texas appeals litigator, had freed retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump‘s first national security adviser who came to symbolize the FBI’s unfair war against the president. Ms. Powell also forced the exposure of secret FBI documents showing, she said, that agents entrapped her client.
Mr. Wood, running a one-man boutique firm in Atlanta, took on a bevy of news media titans in filing defamation lawsuits on behalf of besieged Covington Catholic High School student and pro-life advocate Nicholas Sandmann. A conservative icon for liberal media abuse, Mr. Sandmann settled with The Washington Post and CNN.
Mr. Giuliani, the former prosecutor, New York City mayor and Mr. Trump‘s closest legal confidant, came by Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop. Spilled to the press, the contents told the fullest story yet of the Biden family’s financial entanglements with shady foreign actors.
Today, the trio stand accused by judges and some fellow conservatives. They championed sometimes bizarre conspiracy theories such as vote tallies being sent to Europe, Trump votes being switched to Mr. Biden, thousands of dead voters and forged signatures, and Chinese and Iranian control over voting machines.
No judge bought any of this. Mr. Biden will be inaugurated Wednesday as the 46th president.
The one legal voice of caution close to Mr. Trump — Attorney General William P. Barr — said his investigators found no rampant fraud. Pressured by Mr. Trump to find some, Mr. Barr resigned.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, laid blame for Jan. 6 squarely on Mr. Trump and his rhetoric about election fraud.
“He asked all the people to come to Washington for the rally,” Mr. Hutchinson said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And then he used very aggressive language in the rally itself, and he misled people and his followers as to what happened during the election — that it was stolen and that our checks and balances are not working.”
With fraud messages drummed into his ear, Mr. Trump declared repeatedly, “I won in a landslide.” He ignited the “Stop the Steal” movement that brought thousands of supporters to Washington in November and December and finally on Jan. 6, the day Congress voted to confirm Mr. Biden’s Electoral College win. The presiding officer, Vice President Mike Pence, refused Mr. Trump‘s request to stop the constitutional process.
The “Stop the Steal” aftermath for Mr. Trump‘s three most public legal defenders:
• Ms. Powell is being sued by Dominion Voting Systems and separately by an employee for accusing them of election fraud.
• Mr. Giuliani may face criminal charges from D.C. authorities for inciting a riot via his rally speech. The New York State Bar Association has opened an inquiry that could lead to his disbarment. Georgia’s election chief says Mr. Giuliani “fabricated” evidence.
• Mr. Wood took his battle to Twitter, where he spread wild conspiracies. A judge admonished him and threw him off a case. Former law partners have accused Mr. Wood of assaulting them.
A flamboyant public figure, the Atlanta lawyer capitalized on the Trump election loss to become a litigator, social media activist and voice for “Stop the Steal.”
Among his stream of tweets, he said U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. helped disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein adopt children from Wales. He said the Nashville bomber was trying to destroy Dominion Voting machine cyberrecords.
Kicked off Twitter, he switched to an alternative platform, Parler, where he said, “Get the firing squads ready. Pence goes FIRST.” Parler removed the post.
On Jan. 11, Delaware Superior Court Judge Craig A. Karsnitz cited Mr. Wood‘s inflammatory tweets to justify kicking him off a defamation case in which he was representing Trump-Russia figure Carter Page, Bloomberglaw.com reported.
Judge Karsnitz’s opinion was a stinging indictment of the lawyer’s tactics in Georgia and Wisconsin as well as his social media eruptions.
“The conduct of Mr. Wood, albeit not in my jurisdiction, exhibited a toxic stew of mendacity, prevarication and surprising incompetence,” the judge said.
He said Mr. Wood‘s claims about Chief Justice Roberts “are too disgusting and outrageous to repeat.”
“No doubt these tweets, and many other things, incited these riots,” Judge Karsnitz said.
When Mr. Wood tweeted, “If Pence is arrested, @SecPompeo will save the election. Pence will be in jail awaiting trial for treason,” even Mr. Sandmann, his client, had seen enough.
“I’m sorry but what the hell,” Mr. Sandmann commented with a retweet.
Mr. Wood became a “Stop the Steal” surrogate for conveying Mr. Trump‘s feud with Georgia Republican Party elected leaders who the president believed botched the count.
At a December rally with Ms. Powell, Mr. Wood, wearing his ever-present “Make America Great Again” red cap, urged the crowd not to vote for the two Republican Senate candidates, Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Texas Republican, accused Mr. Wood.
“Lin Wood is a Democrat that wants Republicans to self-destruct,” he tweeted. “Just because he wears a MAGA hat does not mean he shares a single value with you. He just wants your donations for his legal fees. He’s a grifter.”
The two Republicans lost their races, throwing Senate control to Democrats.
Mr. Wood teamed up with Ms. Powell for their Georgia court invasion. A 104-page Nov. 24 complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, carried tales of nefarious plots at home by Dominion Voting and abroad by U.S. enemies.
“An analysis of the Dominion software system by a former U.S. military intelligence expert concludes that the system and software have been accessible and were certainly compromised by rogue actors, such as Iran and China,” the two lawyers claimed in a complaint that Ms. Powell billed as “The Kraken.”
The judge quickly dismissed the case.
Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Ms. Powell says her “expert” has backed off his claim. The Department of Homeland Security has said there is no evidence that any vote-counting mechanism has been hacked.
Mr. Wood has faced criticism from his own circle of lawyers in Atlanta. On Aug. 31, three former partners sued him in state court. They accused Mr. Wood of “erratic, abusive and unprofessional behavior” that prompted them to quit. They reached a settlement agreement for client payments they were owed, but then Mr. Wood refused to pay, the lawsuit says.
“It is now clear that defendants [Mr. Wood and his corporation] committed fraud because they never intended to pay the majority of money they owed,” the lawsuit states.
They said Mr. Wood paid their salaries from a separate corporation “for the apparent purpose of not having to account for taxes on compensation paid.”
The lawsuit also says Mr. Wood assaulted one of them when the partner visited his home to check on his well-being and another partner in a hotel elevator.
“At this point, Defendant Wood began a series of irrational and incomprehensible email, text, and voicemail threats,” the complaint says.
They quoted an Wood email: “Your lies and fraud upon law firms and your employers are going to come back quickly to haunt you for the rest of your lives. You f—-ed with the wrong guy. You f—-ed with Lin Wood. Bad f—-ing choice.”
Mr. Wood responded to the lawsuit: “I am deeply disappointed and saddened that three young lawyers I mentored and involved in some cases in recent years have chosen to file a frivolous and unnecessary lawsuit against me and my law firm,” he said. “Adding insult to injury, these young lawyers have chosen to willingly engage in a disgraceful and unprofessional effort to publicly attack me by including irrelevant, out-of-context private messages I sent to them in the midst of a difficult time in my personal life arising primarily from my family’s reaction to my faith in Jesus Christ.”
Powell and Giuliani
Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell appeared at a raucous Nov. 19 press conference in Washington, where Ms. Powell was introduced as a Trump campaign attorney. The aim was to sell their theory of mass fraud to a skeptical Washington press.
Calling themselves an “elite strike force team,” Mr. Giuliani alleged “mass cheating” that “would suggest that there was a plan from a centralized place to execute these various acts of voter fraud, specifically focused on big cities and specifically focused on, as you would imagine, big cities controlled by Democrats.”
“We cannot allow these crooks to steal an election from the American people,” he said. “They elected President Trump. Not Joe Biden.”
He scolded the press for not reading his collected witness affidavits. “It’s your job to read these things and not falsely report there is no evidence,” he said. “You don’t have the right to lie to people.”
Among his claims that day: Votes were counted overseas by Dominion officials tied to the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez; (Mr. Giuliani said: “You should be more astounded by the fact that our votes are counted in Germany and in Spain, by a company owned by affiliates of Chavez”); that Dominion Voting “specializes in voter fraud”; that 600,000 mailed ballots were counted in Pennsylvania but not inspected; and that there were 300,000 illegal ballots in Michigan.
Ms. Powell then stepped to the podium. “What we are really dealing with here is the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba and likely China in the interface of the election here in the United States,” she said.
“President Trump won by a landslide,” she added. “And we are going to prove it.”
Dominion rejected all those claims in its lawsuit against Ms. Powell.
“Powell’s wild accusations are demonstrably false,” it said. “Far from being created in Venezuela to rig elections for a now-deceased Venezuelan dictator, Dominion was founded in Toronto for the purpose of creating a fully auditable paper-based vote system that would empower people with disabilities to vote independently on verifiable paper ballots.”
Mr. Giuliani was not finished with Dominion. He singled out for scorn a Dominion Voting engineer named Eric Coomer, the company’s director of product strategy and security.
Mr. Coomer’s life-altering story began postelection when a social media conservative in Denver claimed that Mr. Coomer was in a conference call with Antifa and pledged to rig the vote for Mr. Biden. The activist also claimed that he captured Facebook postings of Mr. Coomer deriding the president.
This is what Mr. Giuliani said: “By the way, the Coomer character who is close to Antifa, took off all of his social media. Aha! But we kept it, we’ve got it. The man is a vicious, vicious man. He wrote horrible things about the president. He is completely biased. He’s completely warped and he specifically says that they’re going to fix this election. I don’t know what you need to wake you up, to do your job and inform the American people, whether you like it or not, of the things they need to know. This is real. It is not made up. There’s nobody here that engages in fantasies.”
Mr. Coomer said the claims shocked him. He wrote in a Dec. 8 Denver Post op-ed that he had never talked with or associated with any Antifa members. He said he does not have an active Facebook page.
On Dec. 22 he filed a defamation lawsuit in Denver against the Trump campaign; Ms. Powell; Mr. Giuliani; conservative news sites OANN, NewsMax and the Gateway Pundit; and Denver blogger and podcast host Joseph Oltmann.
The lawsuit said the vilification of Mr. Coomer reached the Trump family. Son Eric Trump tweeted Mr. Coomer’s photograph.
“To be clear, Dr. Coomer has no knowledge of an alleged ‘Antifa Conference Call,’” the complaint states. “The deluge of misinformation has caused immense injury to Dr. Coomer’s reputation, professional standing, safety, and privacy. Once an esteemed private election technology expert, Dr. Coomer has been vilified and subjected to an onslaught of offensive messages and harassment.
“In response to multiple credible death threats, Dr. Coomer has been forced to leave his home in fear for his safety. Without concern for the truth or the consequences of their reckless conduct, defendants branded Dr. Coomer a traitor to the United States, a terrorist and a criminal of the highest order.”
After the Giuliani press-lashing on Nov. 19, Fox News political commentator Geraldo Rivera, who had urged Mr. Trump during a phone call to concede and move on, said: “I love the president. I wanted him to win this election. What I saw with Rudy Giuliani, who I’ve known for decades, was bizarre. It was unfocused. There was a conspiracy theory this and that. We’re giving false hope, we’re giving false hope to people.”
Less than a week after the press conference, the Giuliani-led legal team dropped Ms. Powell as a member.
Yet, on Dec. 21, CNN spotted her leaving the White House residence, suggesting her conspiracy theories were delivered personally to Mr. Trump or to senior aides.
“Her presence is seen as a sign the president is becoming increasingly desperate to overturn the election results,” the Daily Mail said.
Trump v. Georgia Republicans
In December, Mr. Giuliani traveled to Georgia, where Mr. Trump lost by more than 11,000 votes, to convince state legislators that a closed-circuit TV video showed Fulton County ballot counters fixing the results. The Trump team said workers hid boxes of ballots until observers left the room.
As The Washington Times reported, the video showed innocent conduct: the team thought they were going home for the night and put ballots in bar-coded cases. But state officials then ordered the crew to keep counting until results were complete, so the cases were retrieved. A 14-hour video proved this, a state investigator said in a sworn affidavit.
In January, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and aide Gabriel Sterling, constantly maligned by Mr. Trump, went on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to vouch for the state’s vote.
“From my point of view, they intentionally misled state senators, the people of Georgia and the people of the United States about this to cause this conspiracy theory to keep going and keep the disinformation going, which has caused this environment that we’re seeing today,” Mr. Sterling, chief of operations for secretary of state, said on the program.
“I’m saying that Rudy Giuliani looked them in the eye and lied,” Mr. Sterling said.
Mr. Raffensperger, an elected Republican, said Mr. Giuliani knows he misled senators.
“He also, I believe, you know, he has some ethical standards as a member of the bar,” Mr. Raffensperger said. “He knows that what he said was not true. But our state Senate did not ask us to come in there so that we could rebut what they said. And it was actually left as the Gospel truth, and it wasn’t. It was fabricated.”
Asked about that charge, Mr. Giuliani told The Washington Times, “He flat-out lied to them and should be recalled. To this day, he refuses to allow us to forensically examine Dominion machines. You’re not stupid, you know why? They stole the vote from Trump, not to mention mail-in ballots.”
A record number of ballots were mailed across the pandemic-stricken country. The Pew Research Center said the norm was about doubled to 70 million. That, in itself, gave rise to suspicion of fraud, given late-into-the-night vote counting and reporting as well as a reliance on signature verification and not in-person identification.
Judges’ rejections of claims of systematic election fraud does not mean Nov. 3 voting was absent of irregularities.
In Pennsylvania, where Mr. Trump lost by 81,660 votes, Republicans accused ruling Democrats and a Democratic-led Supreme Court of rigging the vote. Democrats extended absentee ballot voting by three days after Nov. 3 and removed the requirement for matching ballot signatures with those on file.
In Nevada, Republicans said several thousand ballots were cast by noncitizens, though this claim has not been subject to an official audit.
In Congress, some Republicans pushed for a national commission to review the 2020 election.
Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, acknowledges that Mr. Biden won his state, but he makes the point that there were consistent reports of polling place anomalies that need to be investigated. “Patriots” have a right to ask questions, he said.
“Then on Election Day, they saw poll watchers being thrown out or obstructed from observing,” Mr. Johnson said. “They heard reports of dead people voting, votes being cast by people who have moved out of state or reside at vacant addresses, people voting twice, once by absentee ballot and once in person, of large Democrat-controlled counties waiting until after Republican counties have reported and then dumping their vote totals in the wee hours of the morning, election officials and others refusing to turn over evidence to those investigating irregularities, and courts refusing to hear what evidence was obtained and instead dismissing election challenges on procedural grounds.”
On Jan. 2, a Saturday, Mr. Raffensperger picked up the phone to hear the president and his legal team on the other line. Mr. Trump wanted him to “find” enough votes to flip the state.
On a leaked recording first reported by The Washington Post, Mr. Trump is heard making unproven claims, such as 300,000 forged ballot signatures in one county alone and implying Mr. Raffensperger was a criminal.
Trump attorneys say thousands of dead Georgia residents voted. State investigators found two and assume the family must have mailed in the ballots.
Georgia conducted two recounts — a machine rescan and then a hand count — and each time the machine and ballot numbers matched.
At a Dec. 1 press conference, Mr. Sterling proved prophetic. He urged Mr. Trump to stop floating conspiracies or risk fomenting violence.
“What you don’t have the ability to do, and you need to step up and say this, is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence,” Mr. Sterling said. “Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot.”
After the Capitol onslaught, Mr. Giuliani shifted his analysis from voting to rioting.
“You think those people climbing the wall are MAGA?” he tweeted about social media videos. “Or trained anarchist activists trying to frame Trump, as usual for crooked Democrats and press.”
“January 6, 2021 hardworking Americans came to DC to peacefully protest about the massive fraud in the 2020 Presidential election,” he said. “The People’s President spoke directly to the people without censorship.”
The New York State Bar Association last week announced an inquiry into Mr. Giuliani‘s conduct at the rally.
“Hours before the angry mob stormed the Capitol walls, Trump‘s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, addressed a crowd of thousands at the White House, reiterating baseless claims of widespread election fraud in the presidential election and the Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs,” said a statement posted on the bar’s homepage.
As for Ms. Powell, who once basked in the Flynn victory, media now regularly refer to her as a “conspiracy theorist.” Twitter kicked her off its platform along with Mr. Wood.
“Ms. Powell has peddled theories that have little basis in fact,” Republican strategist Karl Rove said on Fox News last month.
Neither Ms. Powell nor Mr. Wood responded to messages from The Washington Times.
Like Mr. Giuliani, Ms. Powell has not backed off her tales of massive fraud. Her webpage, Defending the Republic.org, on Wednesday carried the headline, “Breaking: Super Computer & Military in Italy altered the election results in 17 states.”