On Thursday morning, Sidney Powell — once a prominent member of the legal team aiding Donald Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election — agreed to a plea deal as part of her indictment on criminal charges in Georgia. Under the agreement with Fulton County prosecutors, she will serve six years of probation and pay a fine for six counts of conspiracy to interfere with performance of election duties.
One might be forgiven for not immediately responding to this news with surprise. After all, there was no moment during which Powell’s assertions about the election should have been treated with credibility. She was the second act at the infamous November 2020 news conference remembered primarily for Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s unfortunate hairline leakage. But even given the high bar for attention that presented, Powell’s breathless claims about foreign actors — including, somehow, a dead one — retallying votes to aid Joe Biden stood out. At one point, someone in the audience asked whether an exceptionally bizarre conspiracy theory being promoted by One America News was valid; Powell solemnly asserted that it was, although she couldn’t say whether the “good guys” or the “bad guys” were responsible.
Trump ate all of this up, of course, toying at one point nearly a month later with giving Powell federal authority to chase her ghosts. But to reasonable people (including even Tucker Carlson, then at Fox News), it was ridiculous. So, sure, the chickens have come home to roost.
But perhaps that’s the surprise, that some accountability finally settled upon Powell’s shoulders. Justice has been slow in coming for those who tried to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential contest — slow to the point of seeming that it never would arrive. That Powell has faced some measure of accountability is itself remarkable, no?
Well, maybe not. As it turns out, a lot of those who elevated false claims about the 2020 election at the national or state level have since paid the moral tax incurred for that effort.
Consider Powell’s colleagues at that November 2020 news conference.
Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani’s efforts to boost Trump politically began well before the 2020 election. In 2019, he was intertwined in Trump’s attempts to force Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe Biden in anticipation of Biden’s winning the Democratic nomination in 2020. Giuliani established then a willingness to elevate baseless allegations if they were potentially politically useful to Trump, so it’s not shocking that he spent the weeks after the election on a national tour making unverified and ultimately debunked claims of fraud.
It has not served him well. As Powell did, Giuliani faces charges in Georgia related to his efforts. The D.C. Bar called for him to lose his license to practice law; he lost his New York law license in 2021. He’s been sued by Dominion Voting Systems for having repeatedly alleged that the company’s voting machines were part of an effort to steal the election. He’s been sued by his former attorney for failure to pay his bills. Giuliani and his allies were forced to ask Trump to help him raise money to offset his expenses. His reputation is in tatters.
Mike Lindell. Lindell, as you are likely to know, is the founder of the company MyPillow. He became a fervent supporter of Donald Trump’s while Trump was president and joined the post-election effort to subvert the results by alleging fraud.
Lindell, too, is being sued by Dominion, and Lindell, too, is suffering economically for his efforts. He recently admitted that he is nearly broke, in part thanks to the costs of defending himself and in part because retailers severed their relationships with his company as his fraud allegations continued. Lindell also is on the hook for promising to pay a $5 million bounty to anyone who could prove his fraud allegations wrong. Someone did.
Fox News and other right-wing media outlets. Several right-wing media outlets, including Fox News, also were sued by Dominion. Shortly before Fox’s defamation trial began — and after embarrassing internal emails were made public — the channel settled, agreeing to pay out more than three-quarters of a billion dollars. Other outlets agreed to broadcast corrections to their reporting and/or settled lawsuits.
Dinesh D’Souza and True the Vote. Early in 2022, D’Souza announced that he would soon release a documentary proving that the 2020 election was subverted by the mass collection and submission of ballots in swing states. He released a trailer for the film, which used analysis of cellphone data by the activist election-tracking group True the Vote to demonstrate how “mules” had busily submitted ballots at drop boxes.
Then the movie — “2000 Mules” — came out and it all fell apart. There’s not much point reiterating all of the reasons the movie failed to make its case; it has been done previously. Suffice it to say that the film and its creators presented no evidence of anyone collecting a ballot to submit illegally or anyone submitting a ballot illegally. They didn’t even present evidence of anyone visiting more than one ballot box.
D’Souza seems to have made a lot of money with the film, certainly, but at a cost. He’s being sued in Georgia for having identified a particular Georgia voter as having cast illegal ballots — even after the state had cleared the voter of any wrongdoing. His book documenting the allegations made in the movie had to be pulled off shelves and revised, apparently because he alleged wrongdoing by specific organizations that would have been quick to file similar suits.
True the Vote, for its part, quickly tried to move away from the “2000 Mules” claims and D’Souza. It denied involvement in the original claims made in D’Souza’s book and, despite months of promising to present its data, decided not to. The group was targeted by state officials in Arizona and Georgia for alleging fraud but then failing to present credible evidence.
Other actors. The conspiracy charges in Fulton County, Ga., incorporate a number of other people in Trump’s orbit who worked to support his claims about voter fraud or who otherwise tried to help him remain in power. There also were individuals, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, who eagerly amplified false claims about the election but had already burned much of their credibility by late 2020.
And then there’s Trump himself. The former president faces scores of federal and state charges that could result in significant penalties down the road.
That’s the other thing to recognize about Powell’s plea: She’s not the first to face repercussions for amplifying baseless claims about fraud — and she almost certainly won’t be the last.