Dominion Voting Systems files $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against pro-Trump election attorney Sidney Powell

Image
Sidney Powell. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
  • Dominion Voting Systems has filed a defamation suit against the pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell, seeking $US1.3 billion in damages.
  • Powell, a former lawyer for President Donald Trump’s campaign, has pushed a debunked conspiracy theory that the election-technology company falsified results in the 2020 presidential election.
  • Dominion’s new lawsuit outlines numerous falsehoods in Powell’s election lawsuits and public statements about the election and Dominion’s involvement.
  • The voting technology company alleged that her conspiracy theories were all the more damaging because they were amplified by Trump and right-wing media outlets.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit on Friday against the pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell, seeking $US1.3 billion in damages.

For months Powell pushed a false conspiracy theory alleging that Dominion’s election technology helped to falsify the result of the 2020 presidential election by switching votes from President Donald Trump to Joe Biden.

Her convoluted — and debunked — theory alleged Dominion was secretly in cahoots with a rival election-technology company, Smartmatic, and had links to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013.

“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,” Dominion’s lawsuit said.

Smartmatic has also said it will pursue litigation against election conspiracy theorists and media organisations that gave them a platform.

Powell was one of the faces of the Trump campaign’s legal team in November, but Trump kicked her off the team after she floated her conspiracy theory at a press conference alongside the attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis. Giuliani and Ellis remained on the campaign’s legal team, even as both continued to spread falsehoods about the election and as Giuliani spread many of the same theories as Powell.

Despite being purged from Trump’s “Elite Strike Force,” Powell used her false theories as the premise of four federal lawsuits seeking to overturn the election result. All of them failed, and they have resulted in motions for her to be disbarred.

Dominion’s 124-page defamation lawsuit — running nearly 2,000 pages with exhibits — filed in federal court in Washington, DC, outlines how Powell repeatedly spread lies about the company, flying in the face of evidence from election-certification and -security authorities and courts that found her claims meritless.

The voting-technology company said it arrived at the $US1.3 billion figure by adding up the value of the contracts at risk because of the disinformation, punitive damages from her claim, and the recouping of the cost of litigation against her. The case has been assigned to Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee.

“These false allegations have caused catastrophic damage to this company. They have branded Dominion, a voting company, as perpetrating a massive fraud,” Tom Clare, the attorney representing Dominion, said in a Zoom press conference on Friday. “Those allegations triggered a media firestorm that promoted those same false claims to a global audience. They have made the company radioactive and destroyed the value of its once thriving business and has put Dominion’s multiyear contracts in jeopardy.”

Powell said Friday she “would not be cowed,” writing on Twitter that the lawsuit “is baseless & filed to harass, intimidate, & to drain our resources as we seek the truth of #DominionVotingSystems‘ role in this fraudulent election.”

A lie spread through a right-wing media ecosystem

The lawsuit outlines how Powell used the right-wing media ecosystem to spread the theory. It says that Powell’s falsehoods “in concert with like-minded allies and media outlets” had led to threats against Dominion employees and election officials.

It also points out that Trump tweeted videos of Powell, amplifying her claims “to his more than 88 million followers, instantly and irreparably damaging Dominion’s reputation and business to a global audience and putting the lives of Dominion employees in danger.”

Clare said Friday that this lawsuit against Powell would be the first in a series and that the company was still weighing whether to sue Trump.

He told Insider that he expected to sue other parties parallel to Powell rather than waiting for the lawsuit against her to conclude.

Donald Trump wildcard
President Donald Trump. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

In December, Clare sent document-retention letters to Giuliani and the right-wing media organisations Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News. He previously told Insider that the company was weighing defamation lawsuits against them as well.

The lawsuit also outlines how Powell raised money from her media tour peddling her conspiracy theory through a corporate vehicle called “Defending the Republic,” also named as a party in the lawsuit.

“Powell wilfully made them in the course of her business as a media figure, author, and attorney because she could derive — and did in fact derive — both direct and indirect financial benefits from making those false statements,” the lawsuit said.

Actual malice

To succeed in a defamation lawsuit, plaintiffs like Dominion must show that defendants like Powell were acting with “actual malice,” rather than sincerely believing their falsehoods.

To clear this hurdle, Clare said Friday, the lawsuit points to Powell’s ignoring Dominion’s demands for retraction.

“Heard they wrote me too! Haven’t seen it but retracting nothing We have #evidence. They are #fraud masters!” Powell tweeted on December 20, responding to a tweet from Lin Wood, a Trump elector and fellow attorney and conspiracy theorist. Wood was banned from Twitter after falsely alleging that Chief Justice John Roberts was involved in a pedophile ring and calling for Vice President Mike Pence to be executed.

“It is hard to imagine better evidence of reckless disregard to the truth,” Clare said.

Image
Powell and Lin Wood at a press conference on the election result in Georgia on December 2. Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Clare also said that Powell continued to push her conspiracy theory even when she was contradicted by evidence, that she falsified court filings, and that she misrepresented the qualifications of her sources.

“She continued to make those same discredited statements over and over and over again, in the face of all of that hard evidence,” Clare said. “She concealed and misrepresented who her sources actually were, as well as their qualifications. She relied on sources with a track record of spreading false statements and spreading conspiracy theories.”

The lawsuit points to an exhibit Powell filed in her federal lawsuit in Georgia. She said that Dominion did not have up-to-date certification in the state. In fact, the exhibit had cropped out the certification date, which was recent.

Election certification georgia dominion sidney powell
On the left, an exhibit Powell filed in a lawsuit with the approval cropped out. On the right, the authentic certificate. Dominion lawsuit

Jan Jacobowitz, a former University of Miami law professor and expert on legal ethics, previously told Insider that Powell could be disbarred or face other court sanctions if she was found to have falsified documents in her lawsuits. The city of Detroit, following the failure of Powell’s Michigan lawsuit, has already referred her for disbarment.

Dominion’s lawsuit outlines the dubious sources Powell cited in her lawsuits. One is “Spider” (Powell sometimes spelled the name as “Spyder”), who claimed to be a “military intelligence expert.” Powell retracted his name from exhibits but erroneously included it in the metadata. The Washington Post spoke to him and found that he vastly misrepresented his qualifications.

Sidney powell rudy giuliani
Rudy Giuliani and Powell at a Trump campaign press conference. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

A source whom Powell described as a “Venezuelan military officer” was identified by The Associated Press as Leamsy Salazar. Dominion’s lawsuit describes Salazar’s claims as false on their face.

“If Salazar is now a pure-hearted whistleblower with the best interests of American democracy at heart, why did he wait more than five years after arriving in the United States — until after Trump had lost the presidential election — to tell anyone that U.S. elections were being rigged through the use of decades-old Venezuelan vote-flipping software,” the lawsuit says.

Other affiants Powell relied on in her lawsuits, Dominion said, are “conspiracy theorists, con artists, and other facially unreliable sources as experts.”

The lawsuit cites evidence that one lied about their military career and that another lied about being a doctor and used money raised for charity for personal gain. Yet another purported to show fraud by citing a county that does not exist. And one pushed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories claiming that George Soros helped give rise to Nazi Germany in the 1930s. (Soros is Jewish and was born in 1930.)

“Lies were told about government election officials, elections workers, and Dominion Voting Systems,” Dominion CEO John Poulos said Friday. “Those lies have consequences. They have served to diminish the credibility of U.S. elections. They have subjected officials and Dominion employees to harassment and death threats. And they have severely damaged the reputation of our company.”

Read the 124-page lawsuit here. The 1,967-page version with exhibits can be read here.

This article has been updated.