Sidney Powell’s road from UNC to defending Trump’s supposed ‘landslide’ reelection

Sidney Powell’s road from UNC to defending Trump’s supposed ‘landslide’ reelection
Sidney Powell, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters, Thursday Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington. (Source: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(The Charlotte Observer) - Growing up in the Triangle, Sidney Powell never missed an episode of Perry Mason. Now she’s starring in her own prime-time legal drama.

On Thursday Powell stood alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as they argued for 90 minutes that President Donald Trump had won the election in “a landslide,” only to have the results marred by fraud.

“(W)e are going to reclaim the United States of America for the people who vote for freedom,” said Powell, part of what Giuliani calls Trump’s “elite strike force team.”

Hours later she was ripped by conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

“What Powell was describing would amount to the single greatest crime in American history,” Carlson told his legions of viewers. “Millions of votes stolen in a day. Democracy destroyed… We invited Sidney Powell on the show. We would have given her the whole hour. We would have given her the entire week actually . . . But she never sent us any evidence despite requests, polite requests. When we kept pressing she got angry and told us to stop contacting her.”

Powell grew up in Raleigh, graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in less than two years and went on to UNC law school. From there she moved to Texas where she became one of the country’s youngest federal prosecutors. She returned to Asheville where she practiced law and got involved in the community. People there do not recall her being particularly interested in politics.

Now she has emerged as one of the top advocates of the notion that Trump was a victim of fraud.

Even among conservatives, Powell has become a lightning rod in the attempt by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the election. Multiple lawsuits filed on behalf of the president to challenge results have gone nowhere. Critics say her claims, like Giuliani’s, are baseless conspiracy theories.

“What we are really dealing with here and uncovering more by the day is the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba and likely China in the interference with our elections here in the United States,” she said Thursday, according to the Washington Post.

Speaking to Fox Business Friday morning, Powell called Carlson “very insulting, demanding and rude.”

“And I told him not to contact me again in those terms,” she said.

Reactions condemning or lauding Powell lit up Twitter on Friday.

“Sidney Powell and the other lawyers are patriots. They deserve our thanks,” tweeted conservative radio host Mark Levin. Republican pollster Frank Luntz offered a different take: “This isn’t sane stuff, GOP,” he tweeted.

Powell, who defended former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn, once wrote an article claiming he’s been “framed and relentlessly persecuted” by the U.S. intelligence community. She’s retweeted accounts associated with Q-Anon, the conspiracy theory, and this week claimed that the Venezuelan government and the financier George Soros are part of the plot to give the election to Biden.

Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Powell and Giuliani are spinning conspiracy theories.

“I was alternately amused and horrified by that press conference, and only horrified by her conspiracy theories and reckless accusations,” he said in an email to the Observer. “What perplexes me is that bar associations have not stepped in to sanction her, Giuliani and the others for frivolous lawsuits and reckless comments.”

Powell, who has a law practice in Texas, could not be reached.

SPEEDING THROUGH UNC

Born in Durham, she grew up in Raleigh. She once told the News & Observer that she’d wanted to be a lawyer since 4th grade and naturally became a fan of Perry Mason. As a student at Broughton High, she ran errands for a Raleigh law firm. After graduating in 1973, as president of her senior homeroom, she went on to UNC Chapel Hill.

She raced through college, graduating in just 21 months as a a Phi Beta Kappa. The speed raised a warning flag when she applied to UNC law school. She told the N&O that the admissions dean didn’t like it.

“He said I was showing contempt for the undergraduate institution, truncating my education and demeaning the educational process,” Powell told the N&O in 1979.

A cartoon accompanying the story showed Powell running past the dean in a blur, her cap flying, at her 1978 law school graduation.

From Chapel Hill, she moved to Texas — “mainly because I’ve never been away from home,” she told the paper. In San Antonio, she became one of the youngest assistant U.S. attorneys in the country.

She worked as a prosecutor for a decade and represented the government in more than 350 cases at the federal appellate level, according to her web site. She started her own firm in Dallas in 1993.

Powell took her practice to Asheville around 2002. In 2004 she founded The Genesis Alliance, a non-profit that raised money to help victims of domestic violence. She also raised money for other causes and served on the boards of the Asheville Area Center for the Performing Arts and the Asheville Symphony Association. People who interacted with her said Friday they don’t recall her being a staunch conservative or even very political.

Democratic state Sen. Terry Van Duyn served as treasurer of the Genesis Alliance under Powell and knew her socially.

“Sidney is obviously a high-powered, forceful, determined woman,” Van Duyn said Friday. “She came into a room and wanted to take over.”

‘BEYOND THE PALE’

It’s unclear how Powell went from practicing law in Asheville to a member of Giuliani’s team defending the president.

Van Duyn said she’s surprised at Powell’s current role.

“Prior to now I thought she was opinionated, but I thought she could tell the difference between fact and fiction,” she said. “This is just beyond the pale.”

Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, an anti-Trump Republican, said he believes Powell is making baseless claims.

“If somebody in a normal situation went in and made these allegations in court with no evidence they might find themselves being disciplined by a state bar,” Orr said Friday.

Root Edmonson, a retired bar official from Raleigh, said a lawyer could be disciplined for “knowingly” making a false statement.

But, he added, “it can certainly be difficult to apply that to political statements.”

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