Judge Blasts ‘Fantastical’ Voter-Fraud Claims, Fact Checking (1)

July 12, 2021, 7:12 PM

A federal judge in Michigan grilled former Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell and other Republican Party lawyers over whether they should be sanctioned for filing a lawsuit to overturn the 2020 election result using false claims about voter fraud in the swing state.

U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker in Detroit on Monday dissected dozens of affidavits the lawyers had submitted as evidence of a vast conspiracy to steal the election from former President Donald Trump. Parker called some of the claims “fantastical” and repeatedly expressed surprise at the apparent lack of fact-checking carried out by the lawyers before suing.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the city of Detroit have asked the court to issue sanctions and start disciplinary proceedings against Powell and the others, including outspoken trial lawyer Lin Wood, alleging they improperly used the court as a weapon to undermine faith in the election result.

“The court is concerned the affidavits were submitted in bad faith,” Parker said during a six-hour hearing over video-conference that ended without a ruling and was marked by attorneys speaking over one another throughout.

The case is one of several disputes stemming from the failed attempt by Trump and his supporters to use the courts to reverse his election loss. Wisconsin is seeking legal fees from Trump and Powell, and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has been temporarily barred from practicing law in Washington while New York considers whether to permanently revoke his law license.

Easily Deemed Untrue

Parker’s questioning Monday revealed a pattern of weak evidence behind the claims of fraud in the Michigan lawsuit, including debunked allegations that thousands of ballots had been improperly counted or flipped by voting machines. Many claims in the affidavits were easily deemed to be untrue, the judge said.

Detroit attorney David Fink said “lies spread in this courtroom” helped trigger the deadly assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, adding that all the lawyers should be barred from practicing law in the state.

“We can’t undo what happened on Jan. 6, but this court can do something to let the world know that attorneys in this country are not free to use the courts to tell lies,” Fink said in a closing statement. “These lawyers should be punished for their behavior.”

Powell, in her closing remark, said she had a duty to the country to bring the lawsuit, comparing the case to the the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in schools in 1954.

“This is one of the processes that leaves the American public with no confidence either in our election system or our judicial system,” Powell said before accusing Michigan of seeking sanctions to make a political point of its own.

One affidavit highlighted by the judge at the hearing was submitted as evidence of alleged fraudulent collusion between Democratic election workers and U.S. Postal Service employees. The affidavit was signed by a man who claimed he saw a young couple deliver several large plastic bags to a postal worker who he said appeared to be waiting for them. There were no markings on the bags or any indication of what was inside, but the witness said it was “odd” and that it “could be” ballots.

‘Fantastical’ Affidavit

“I don’t think I’ve ever really seen an affidavit that has made so many leaps,” Parker said. “This is really fantastical. My question to counsel here is -- how can any of you, as officers to the court, present this type of affidavit? Is there anything in here that is not speculative?”

In response to the judge, Julia Haller, another lawyer who signed on to challenge the election, said, “We put forth a pattern of evidence that shows fraud. He saw what he saw, and he documented it as he did.”

Parker pointed to several other examples of what she described as errors in the affidavits that could reasonably be seen as obvious red flags for a lawyer, including claims that some Michigan towns had voter turnout that was many times the amount of eligible voters, and that a hand recount in one town had found evidence of fraud even though no such recount had taken place.

‘Did Anybody Question It?’

“Did anyone feel that that type of representation should be questioned?” the judge asked. “More importantly, did anybody question it?”

Powell asserted that she had done proper due diligence, as did several other attorneys who defended their handling of the affidavits. Wood, however, told the judge that his name had been added to the case without his knowledge, though he conceded he’d told Powell he would help her with her litigation. Powell chalked that up to a misunderstanding.

Fink pointed to the lawsuit’s false claim that 139% of eligible voters in the city had cast ballots, arguing that the allegation had toxic consequences. He said it was cited by Trump in his “infamous” phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, when the president tried to convince the Republican official to flip the election his way.

“The suggestion that this is some kind of harmless error because it was ultimately corrected flies in the face of the reality of what actually happened,” Fink said. “These lies were put out into the world, and when they were put out into the world they were adopted and believed -- and believed by some of the most potent recipients.”

(Updates with comments from judge and lawyers.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net

Steve Stroth

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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