Sidney Powell lost the plot.
To protect herself from a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit, the Trumpist lawyer was supposed to stick to her wacky opinions that a voting technology company somehow stole the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and not try to present the conspiracy theory as a matter of fact.
But she couldn’t help herself. And now, legal experts tell The Daily Beast, she may be in even more serious trouble.
Powell drew nationwide attention last month for her bizarre claim at a Dallas MAGA rally that the twice-impeached former President Donald Trump could be “reinstated” as commander-in-chief. But a little-noticed portion of that appearance on May 29 may prove to be more consequential. In it, she likely damaged one of the core arguments her lawyers are using to try to fend off the billion-dollar lawsuit over her baseless claims about the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic have filed multi-billion-dollar suits against Powell and others for defamation over her public claims about the company and its products, including her wild assertion that its software was part of a Venezuelan plot to steal elections and created masses of fake votes for Biden. In response, Powell’s attorneys have tried to argue that her statements were not meant to be factual—but rather legally protected statements of opinion.
In a March 22 motion to dismiss in the Dominion suit, Powell’s attorneys argued that “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact” and that they are simply “her opinions and legal theories on a matter of utmost public concern.” (In the United States, statements of opinion are protected from defamation claims if they cannot be “proven as fact” or if they use “loose, figurative, or hyperbolic language which would negate the impression that the writer was seriously maintaining” a position as fact.)
But a half-hour into the panel at the Dallas Patriot Roundup late last month, Powell appeared to veer away from the defense her attorneys had set out, according to multiple videos reviewed by The Daily Beast.
“I don’t think they realized that some of us litigators were going to catch on and hold their feet to the fire and expose what really happened or that they could shut us up by, say, suing me for 4.3 billion dollars in three different states,” Powell said at the panel discussion. “Threatening me is like waving a red flag in a bull’s face.”
Dominion’s suit against her should be dismissed, Powell continued, because “number one, they don't have jurisdiction over us and number two, we meant what we said and we have the evidence to back it up.”
At the very least, the statement was a tactical error, defamation law experts say—one that could come back to haunt her in court.
“That seems like an extremely damaging admission from Ms. Powell that eviscerates her main defense, which is based on a distortion of the opinion doctrine to begin with,” Ted Boutrous Jr., an attorney at Gibson Dunn and an expert on defamation law, told The Daily Beast. “Dominion will have a field day with this statement in opposing her efforts to dismiss the case before trial, and before the jury if and when the case goes to trial.”
But Powell went further. In the event Dominion’s suits against her and her legal defense organization, Defending the Republic, aren’t tossed out, “then we will get discovery against Dominion and we will be on offense,” she added.
“Powell’s rather odd statement certainly won’t help her defense,” said Sam Terilli, a professor at the University of Miami’s School of Communication and the former general counsel for the Miami Herald. “It’s just hard to know in advance, but it clearly could be a problem.”
“Her stance—‘I can prove it’—is definitely inconsistent with her lawyers’ stance: “nobody would take it as anything but opinion,’ added Ken White, a First Amendment lawyer and ex-federal prosecutor. “It’s tricky, though. Generally at this stage, a court wouldn’t be considering extrinsic evidence like her statements—they consider what’s in the complaint and what’s in public record (like court filings, etc.). The way it could play out is that the judge ignores it for now but revisits it at a later stage (like summary judgment) if the claims against her survive.”
Attorneys for Powell did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.
Powell is one of a handful of pro-Trump figures whose post-election claims about Dominion and Smartmatic voting systems have prompted defamation suits. Smartmatic and Dominion have both filed suits against Powell, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, and Fox News. In addition, Dominion has also sued Trump ally and pillow magnate Mike Lindell for his dizzying array of claims about the company’s products.