SPECIAL EDITION: The death of the stolen election.

Sidney Powell tells the truth (for a moment).
Isaac Saul Mar 24, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and you’re reading Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” Today’s Tangle is a special edition that deviates from the normal format. You can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone forwarded you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

A few months ago, many of you discovered Tangle as I attempted to address, investigate and explain allegations of election fraud that spread like wildfire in November.

These claims of fraud have been deconstructed, debunked, and somehow defended since they started being disseminated. Here at Tangle, I repeatedly took breaks from the usual format of this newsletter (as I am doing today) in order to address these claims. I approached them as an open-minded skeptic. I do not inherently trust the government, nor do I grasp for a singular truth. The nuance and complexity of our country and modern life is part of why I started Tangle.

And by approaching it this way — by actually examining and discussing the claims of fraud, rather than dismissing them outright — I accidentally ended up on the “front lines” of the election fraud debate, with lots of unexpected attention and some surprising success at convincing supporters of the president that the election wasn’t stolen.

In the days after claims of fraud first started getting attention, I had a viral Twitter thread debunking individual allegations. That’s where many of you found me. The thread started only because I noticed how ridiculous a few of the initial claims were, and could prove it by simply explaining how our elections happen and what was occurring in videos that purported to show illegal behavior. But the attention that thread received set off a whole whirlwind of events.

My following on Twitter doubled and my subscriber base saw its fastest-growing week ever. I went on a conservative radio show offering listeners a $1,000 prize if they could stump me with their claims. I did podcasts about the allegations, was featured in articles as a “debunker,” and was attacked by some conservatives across the Internet as a “hack” who “didn’t understand data” and was “in the tank for Democrats.”

I have no interest in re-litigating these claims now, but for the purposes of this edition and for the sake of new readers, I’ll summarize my position this way: the 2020 race was highly unusual both because of a surge in turnout and changes in voting rules that were implemented in response to the pandemic. The election was highly secure, with 95% of votes cast on paper ballots (which makes auditing and recounting easier) and more scrutiny of the final vote tally than had been given to any election in American history.

The race was not particularly close. And all of the most high-profile claims of election fraud have yet to produce any evidence that has held up in court, or been presented convincingly outside of court — certainly not anything that would have approached changing the outcome of any state’s race. Contrary to what many have claimed, cases were not dismissed exclusively on “standing” or because of minor technical errors. Dozens of claims were thrown out due to lack of evidence, and dozens more were so outrageous they never made it in front of a judge in the first place. In many instances, lawyers for former President Trump were framing cases as “fraud allegations” to the public but, under oath in court, not alleging fraud at all.

If you’re new here and want more than that, my most-shared piece on the actual fraud of the 2020 election — the election fraud claims themselves —  is this one, which I wrote less than two weeks after election day. I used that edition to address as many of the allegations as I could in one place, and I think it has aged very well.

All this context brings me to Tuesday, when I saw a tweet that actually took my breath away.

I have been immersed in trying to focus on the new administration, so it had been a few weeks since I had thought or written about allegations that the 2020 election was stolen. And seeing a tweet about Sidney Powell pop back up in my timeline, especially in the way it did, was jarring.

Powell, the lawyer perhaps most responsible for spreading The Big Lie that the election was stolen, a woman with personal access to former President Donald Trump, a woman who appeared on Fox News primetime, a woman with hundreds of thousands of social media followers, finally admitted the absurdity of what she successfully sold to the public.

Before I explain, and in case you forget, here is just a small sampling of the ludicrous claims Powell made in the highly charged weeks after the election:

On November 15th, she told millions of Fox News viewers on Maria Bartiromo’s show that “President Trump won by not just hundreds of thousands of votes, but by millions of votes — that were shifted by this software that was designed expressly for that purpose. We have sworn witness testimony of why the software was designed. It was designed to rig elections. … It was exported internationally for profit by the people that are behind Smartmatic and Dominion. They did this on purpose. It was calculated. They have done it before.”

On November 16th, she told hundreds of thousands of listeners on Mark Levin’s radio show that “It’s the Smartmatic and Dominion systems that were built to do this very thing, for changing the results of elections.”

On December 10th, she told millions of viewers of Lou Dobbs’ Fox Business show that “We now have reams and reams of actual documents from Smartmatic and Dominion, including evidence that they planned and executed all of this. We have evidence of how they flip the votes, how it was designed to flip the votes.”

On November 14th, she told millions of viewers on Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News show that “We’re talking about the alteration and changes and millions of votes, some being dumped that were for President Trump, some being flipped that were for President Trump, computers being overwritten to ignore signatures — all kinds of different means of manipulating the Dominion and Smartmatic software, that, of course, we would not expect Dominion or Smartmatic to admit.”

Powell was then sued by Dominion Voting Systems for defamation and damages that amounted to over $2 billion.

Dominion, you might know, is a company that provides voting machines and technology to dozens of states and became a key player in The Big Lie. Powell, like Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Trump himself, repeatedly insinuated, implied or explicitly stated that Dominion was “flipping” votes on election night and sending in votes for Joe Biden from overseas. Amazingly, without a hint of sarcasm, she also repeatedly alleged that Dominion was designed specifically to throw elections to one candidate or was loosely tied to the late Hugo Chavez and Venezuela, or China, or Germany, or whatever she felt like saying on any given day.

She told variations of this same story not just in the places cited above, but on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Fox News, talk radio, OAN, Newsmax and in the pages of dozens of right-leaning news outlets for months on end. Millions and millions of Americans heard these claims ad nauseum for weeks.

She never once presented actual evidence for the allegations, not even to Trump’s team. To his credit, Fox News host Tucker Carlson actually called Powell out on this when she came on his show to spread the lies. (Powell did release a 270-page pamphlet in December, which she claimed supported her allegations, and which I actually spent days reading. Ironically, it mostly regurgitated publicly available news reports about Russia and Iran trying to influence our elections and was completely untethered from her allegations, though many of her followers continue to cite it — presumably without having read it — as “evidence.”)

But her claims persisted nonetheless. And in court on Monday, presented with Dominion’s lawsuit, Powell had to respond. That’s where the tweet that took my breath away comes in.

As part of her defense in the defamation lawsuit, Powell told the court that “no reasonable person would conclude” her claims “were truly statements of fact.”

I’m not making this up.

Zoe Tillman, a reporter at BuzzFeed, was the first to notice the nugget in her court filing, and her tweet was shared onto my timeline. Here’s a screenshot of the relevant section in the court filing:

I want to be clear about something here: millions of people did conclude that her statements were truly statements of fact, because she swore up and down they were, publicly and repeatedly claimed that her evidence for them was forthcoming, and (as her lawyers acknowledge above) proceeded to take her claims to court.

The president believed them. Republican members of Congress believed them. State officials in various localities believed them. Many of my readers believed them. The people who stormed the capitol building believed them. A friend of mine offered to bet me $15,000 in gold (don’t ask) that the election results would be overturned a month after the election happened in part because he believed Sidney Powell. That’s the kind of confidence she inspired. And now she’s insisting that all of these people are unreasonable?

So many people — reasonable people — believed these claims that from November until early February the entire electoral system was completely off-kilter — with close to one half of the nation believing Joe Biden would not become president, or had won unfairly, or had stolen the election, and the remainder believing the election was fair and secure. Many thousands of people still believed a military coup was going to reinstate Trump on March 4th, buttressed by the belief that Dominion threw the election for Biden. Some still believe that a coup is forthcoming.

Sidney Powell has done untold damage not just to Dominion Voting Systems, an apparently legitimate voting systems company that will now never have a clean name again, but also to the American populace, many of whom took her lies hook, line and sinker.

Her confession in court went largely unnoticed. It was the subject of a few viral Twitter threads like Zoe’s and a spattering of news stories, but it did not grace the cover of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. It was not a primetime segment on OAN or Fox News. In all likelihood, the people who believed her claims — the ones she just implicitly called dumb rubes for buying what she was selling — did not hear about her admission in court.

Worse yet, Powell is still not backing off the claims that she herself insists no reasonable person would believe. In fact, later in her filing, her team goes out of its way to note that Powell still believes the things she said about Dominion Voting Systems. The audacity of these conflicting arguments is hard to overstate.

So why am I writing about this now? Because, while my efforts to examine these allegations brought some positive attention to me and Tangle, it also brought me a lot of pain and a tremendous amount of stress.

First, I lost many long-time subscribers — readers who I enjoyed interacting with on a daily basis — for writing the truth that while voter fraud happens on a minor scale in almost every election, there was no evidence for election fraud that even approached the necessary magnitude to change the results of any of the 2020 state presidential, Senatorial, or congressional races. I spent untold hours exchanging emails with those readers, even getting on phone calls with them, trying to convince them that they were being lied to.

I also got crushed by the weight of these claims. They were a tidal wave, and at one point my 400-plus tweet Twitter thread could no longer keep up, not even when supported by the dozens of newsletters or interviews that I was doing. Right now, at this very moment, my email inbox and Twitter inbox is still full of unread messages from people demanding I “explain” some odd-looking instance that is actually a pretty normal election happening. I try to reply to them all but I cannot. Some of it is hate mail and threats, people calling me a “kike” or a “liberal shill” or promising I’ll be in jail the moment Trump is president again.

By late January, I was so burnt out I had to take a brief break from the newsletter and the Internet and slept for close to 30 hours over the course of two days. Then I spent weeks trying to reconnect with my fiancé and friends whom I had been ignoring for months. My “pain,” of course, pales in comparison to that of the election workers and state officials who have been doxxed, forced into hiding, harassed and threatened because of Powell’s allegations. Worse yet are the many readers who have written in telling me stories of the family members they have lost, some perhaps permanently, down the conspiracy rabbit hole of claims that Powell built.

And it was all a lie.

All of it.

When Dominion started holding people accountable for their lies, many of them began backtracking. Fox News and Newsmax notably issued on-air corrections and apologies for misleading their viewers — making it abundantly and explicitly clear that they had no information to support the egregious claims they had peddled for months on end. Fox News host Lou Dobbs, who aired and echoed Powell’s claims on his show, no longer has a job, reportedly for his role in spreading those lies.

Even One America News (OAN), our nation’s best attempt at a pro-Trump state media outlet, issued a comically long disclaimer before airing a two-hour documentary based on The Big Lie that the election was stolen. It also quietly removed stories about Dominion from its website without explanation or notification to its readers.

When the riots at the Capitol building took place, the media obsessed over President Trump’s “role” in “inciting” them, something I myself wrote about here. But for all the responsibility we can lay at the feet of the former president, few people bore as much responsibility as Sidney Powell. Her claims — the promises that she would “release the Kraken” — were so vital to this entire charade that without them I don’t think any of this would have happened the way it did.

Why was she so important? It’s hard to say. Maybe because she is an actual lawyer, a former federal prosecutor who has defended everyone from Michael Flynn to the Enron executives. She was “legit,” as so many people I interacted with kept insisting. “Why would Sidney Powell stake her career on a lie?” some conservative reporters wondered out loud. She was on the president’s legal team, others told me, insisting that gave her credibility. Maybe it’s because she had a mellifluous southern accent and spoke in calm, clear terms. Maybe it’s because she lied so much and so often and with such absolute certainty in her tone that she ended up seeming beyond reproach.

I still don’t have an answer for you, but I can promise you that the claims she made — over and over — were all nonsense.

For Powell’s part, the legal defense might work. Successful libel or defamation litigation seems rare in these situations, and Powell is using a similar defense that others — including Tucker Carlson — have used in court to defend what they say on TV. I don’t really care whether she wins or loses her case. It’s irrelevant to me. I’m glad we live in a country where it’s difficult to prosecute someone for their speech, and for all the damage Powell did, and as contradictory as her legal defense is, she may be found innocent in court.

What’s more important, though, is that she had to admit the absurdity of her claims in writing. And even if she ends up being free from legal consequence, the consequences for her reputation and career should be catastrophic.

Everyone knows the old cliché about a lie making it around the world before the truth gets its shoes on. In this case, the truth was fully dressed with body armor before the lie showed up. I told readers well before the election that claims of fraud were coming, and even accurately predicted how and why for some of them, but it didn’t matter. The lie bulldozed the truth and ran roughshod across the country.

As of January, a third of Americans still believed the election was riddled with fraud, including nearly 75% of Republicans who say Joe Biden did not win the election legitimately. This is despite the fact the “evidence” has been little more than misleading social media videos and ridiculous affidavits signed by people who “observed vote counting” but clearly did not understand what they were witnessing.

Will it matter that Powell admitted her claims were so ridiculous no reasonable person should be expected to believe them? Maybe not. Probably not. But after months of trying to convince skeptical readers, strangers on the Internet, and friends that I’m not a partisan hack for stating the truth that the election was not stolen, I’m certainly not going to let it go unnoticed here.

Quick hits.

  1. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says fully vaccinated people can still get COVID, but it’s pretty rare. (Axios)
  2. The 21-year-old suspect in the Boulder, Colorado, shooting, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, was charged with 10 counts of murder. (The New York Times, subscription)
  3. Stocks ticked higher today as the tech sector rebounded from a brief sell-off (The Wall Street Journal, subscription). There has also been an unusual leap in gas prices as the national average approaches $3 a gallon. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  4. An enormous shipping container is stuck in the Suez canal, blocking traffic through one of the world’s most important trade centers that facilitates roughly 10% of all worldwide shipping traffic. (BBC News)
  5. The Biden administration is weighing whether to extend a federal policy that is due to expire that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants who can’t make rent. (The Washington Post)

Blindspot report.

Tangle has very few partners because we are very careful about who we work with. But one of them is Ground News, an exceptional app and website that tracks the political bias in news reporting. I feature parts of Ground News’s “Blindspot Report” in Tangle. The Blindspot Report tells you what you were likely to miss based on your political leanings and the news feed bubble you’ve created for yourself.

If you’re on the left, you probably missed a story about a migrant telling reporters he attempted to cross into the U.S. because Joe Biden was president.

If you’re on the right, you probably missed a story how high-income tax avoidance costs far more than initially thought.

Want to check out Ground News’s bias ratings, blindspot reports or other news sources? Click here.

Don’t forget!

Today was not a typical edition of Tangle. I try to keep 80-90% of the newsletter free for anyone who wants it, because I fundamentally believe reliable, balanced news should not be behind a paywall. But I am also trying to run a successful and thriving media company. Tangle subscriptions cost just $4.16/month at $50/year — which is less than I paid for a single coffee in Brooklyn yesterday. Please consider subscribing to support Tangle:

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Have a nice day.

A 75-year-old Chinese woman who was attacked in San Francisco says she plans to give away all the money that was raised for her on GoFundMe. Xiao Zhen Xie became central to a series of hate crimes against elderly Asian Americans after photos of her bruised face went viral online. In response, more than $900,000 was raised for her medical bills and therapy on GoFundMe. But she had different plans. Instead of keeping the money, her grandson said, she plans to donate all the funds back to the Asian American community to combat racism. (San Francisco Gate)


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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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