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Texas Matters: Sidney Powell's Big Lie And The Texas Election Crackdown

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FILE PHOTO: Powell participates in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington
Jonathan Ernst
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REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Sidney Powell, an attorney later disavowed by the Trump campaign, participates in a news conference with U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani (not pictured) at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. November 19, 2020.

It was standing room only with folks also in a capitol overflow room on Thursday for the Texas House Committee on Elections. The agenda was loaded with bills to be considered. Some, if passed, will make it more difficult to vote in Texas. But most of the attention was focused on House Bill 6 authored by Elections Committee Chairman Briscoe Cain. HB6 is an omnibus election security or voter suppression bill depending on one’s party affiliation. The companion bill in the Senate is SB7.

Certainly there was a lot going on at the Texas capitol this one day. Also on Thursday there was an emotional hearing for the George Floyd Act, a sweeping police reform bill named after a Black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer last year. It would in part ban chokeholds and require officers to intervene if their partner is using excessive force.

Representative Senfronia Thompson introduced The George Floyd Act (HB 88) to the Texas House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee.

State Sen. Royce West is carrying the George Floyd act in the senate.

Also on Thursday there was also a marathon hearing on expanding gun rights in Texas. The big legislative push is for open, permitless carry of firearms without any training or licensing.

But we are focusing on the issue of voting rights because they are central to having a legitimate and functioning democracy. And it was that Thursday hearing which broke down into a public farce.

And to get there — you have to start here with former president Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani who in November, with black streaks dripping down the side of his face, was speaking at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington D.C. He and Texas Based attorney Sidney Powell laid out their case that Trump’s reelection was stolen.

None of that is true. It was all an invention that failed over and over again in courtrooms. There was no evidence to support these fantastic claims. But that didn’t seem to bother or stop Sidney Powell from trying to sell this bunk.

Powell’s claims were as detailed as they were outrageous. And she promised to release all the evidence that would prove everything — which would overturn the 2020 presidential election and that never happened. Not even close.

Eventually Powell’s statements about the election fraud got too outlandish even for Trump. He formally distanced himself from her, stating she was "practicing law on her own" and was not a member of the legal team; although she continued to meet with the president in the White House.

On Jan. 8 Dominion voting machines sued Powell for defamation and asked for more than $1.3 billion in damages. On Feb. 4, Smartmatic voting systems filed a defamation lawsuit that accused Powell, Fox News, some hosts at Fox News, and Rudy Giuliani of engaging in a "disinformation campaign" against the company, and asked for $2.7 billion in damages. And on Friday Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, arguing the cable news giant falsely claimed in an effort to boost faltering ratings that the voting company had rigged the 2020 Election.

In response on March 22, 2021, lawyers defending Powell against Dominion's lawsuit filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. They argued that "no reasonable person would conclude that the statements (by Powell about the 2020 election) were truly statements of fact." Instead, “it was clear to reasonable persons that Powell’s claims were her opinions and legal theories," argued the lawyers. Furthermore, the lawyers claimed that Dominion could not prove that Powell took action with "actual malice," because "she believed the allegations then and she believes them now."

There is a major problem with this legal argument. Her lawyers are saying - that only an idiot would believe Sidney Powell and that Sidney Powell believes Sidney Powell — therefore Sidney Powell is an idiot.

And then there is this: Jan. 6 — the siege of Capitol Hill — the mob chanting “Stop the Steal” believed Sidney Powell.

And then there is this: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is calling for new laws to fix Texas elections — which are not broken. But if passed they will make it more difficult for many Texans to vote.

There is a clear direct line from Sidney Powell’s Big Lie — to the capitol mob attack — to Gov. Abbott’s Texas get tough voter laws and then to what happened at the House Elections Committee hearing on Thursday.

Chairman Cain presented HB6 and he appeared to be unprepared and ill suited to explain his own bill. When Cain started to present the legislation he followed custom and handed the gavel off to vice chairman Jessica González, a Dallas Democrat, so she could run the meeting.

But when Gonzalez attempted to call a witness Representative Nicole Collier — Cain shut things down.

Collier is chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. There are no Black members on the elections committee. The caucus previously asked to be able to participate in the hearing. Voting rights activists see Cain’s bill and others being pushed by Abbott as harmful to voting rights particularly to Black Americans.

The hearing was shut down — first as a recess and then that turned out to be for the day. Hundreds of people had signed up to testify about the bill — including former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. They had traveled to Austin for the sake of voting rights to be ignored.

Cain promised there will be another hearing on the bill and they can return then.

Central to every argument being made for tougher voting laws in Texas is the need to restore confidence in our elections. But according to recent polling Texans of both parties feel that state elections are secure. Joshua Blank is the research director at the Texas Politics Project.

Joshua Blank is the research director at the Texas Politics Project.

The Texas Attorn General office has made a case that voting fraud is a real threat to Texas democracy. But is that true? How reliable are the AG’s numbers?

Thomas Buser Clancy is a staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi