Jurisprudence

Real Accountability for Those Responsible for Jan. 6 Is Actually Starting to Pile Up

A close-up of Powell's face.
Attorney Sidney Powell speaks to the press about various lawsuits related to the 2020 election, inside the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington on Nov. 19. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

You may have missed it, but Wednesday was a very good day for Truth. Whatever ordinarily stirs the miasma of the MyPillow lies and the other assorted crazy, at least on occasion, the generally broken systems we rely upon to separate the liars from the public they seek to dupe really do function. In that sense there’s been a whole lot of good news. Early Wednesday, an email obtained by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and shared with Politico showed that a day before the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, the Secret Service had warned the Capitol Police that their officers could face violence at the hands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump. (On Thursday, six Capitol Police officers sued Trump, Roger Stone, the Proud Boys, and other far-right “violent extremist groups” for their role in the Jan. 6 attacks). Also on Wednesday, the House Select Committee charged with investigating the attacks on the Capitol put out a records request seeking communications from Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence, and other top officials, as well as White House visitor and call logs connected to the day of the attack. None of this will be sufficient to reveal the full truth about what happened that day and create some semblance of accountability. But it’s a lot.

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Also on Wednesday, in federal court, Ty Garbin, the Michigan man charged with plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, was sentenced to six years and three months in prison. Garbin, one of six defendants in the federal case around the plot to “unlawfully seize, kidnap, abduct and carry away, and hold for ransom and reward” Michigan’s governor, pleaded guilty in January and has been cooperating significantly with federal prosecutors against his co-defendants.

But the coup de grâce of Wednesday’s great public truthout was U.S. District Judge Linda Parker’s 110-page ruling against the all-star team of lawyers that sought to overturn Michigan’s 2020 election. Following a July hearing at which Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, and other luminaries of the Kraken bar tried to explain why they should not be sanctioned for their efforts to set aside the Michigan election results and install electors for Donald Trump, Parker handed down a beatdown of an opinion. Parker ordered the lawyers to pay the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit’s attorneys fees for defending the suit and to complete continuing legal education (in the subjects of pleading standards and election law) and to report back on what they learned. She then ordered that a copy of her decision be sent to state disciplinary boards for the possible suspension or disbarment of the nine attorneys involved in the litigation. Parker both opened and closed with the admonition that the attorneys abused not just the truth but had also taken part in a “historic and profound” abuse of the judicial process itself.

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Noting that there is a fundamental difference between recreational lying and lying to a court of law, Parker observed that “[i]ndividuals may have a right (within certain bounds) to disseminate allegations of fraud unsupported by law or fact in the public sphere. But attorneys cannot exploit their privilege and access to the judicial process to do the same. And when an attorney has done so, sanctions are in order.” A wordsmith in the manner of a John Roberts or Elena Kagan, Parker’s anger is largely directed at attorneys who used the federal courts to advance false claims they couldn’t be bothered to check, and to promote their own brands and careers at the expense of the law:

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The attorneys who filed the instant lawsuit abused the well-established rules applicable to the litigation process by proffering claims not backed by law; proffering claims not backed by evidence (but instead, speculation, conjecture, and unwarranted suspicion); proffering factual allegations and claims without engaging in the required prefiling inquiry; and dragging out these proceedings even after they acknowledged that it was too late to attain the relief sought. And this case was never about fraud—it was about undermining the People’s faith in our democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so. While there are many arenas—including print, television, and social media—where protestations, conjecture, and speculation may be advanced, such expressions are neither permitted nor welcomed in a court of law.

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Parker excoriated Lin Wood, whom she deemed “not credible” for claiming he didn’t know his name was listed as counsel and never gave permission to the plaintiffs to use his name. As Parker noted, Wood tweeted a link to an article containing a copy of a motion with his name on it on a key date for the litigation and bragged in other court proceedings that he was representing the Michigan plaintiffs.

Parker’s examination of the absurd relief sought by the plaintiffs was similarly pitiless, going through the list of demented requests that the judge enjoin from being delivered already certified and sent results, impound voting machines belonging to parties not involved in the lawsuit, and order a recount after recount deadlines had passed:

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[W]hile Plaintiffs requested the above relief, their ultimate goal was the decertification of Michigan’s presidential election results and the certification of the losing candidate as the winner—relief not “warranted by existing law or a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law.”

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Of one particularly shoddy case citation, she wrote “this suit has been driven by partisan political posturing, entirely disconnected from the law” and “is the dangerous product of an online feedback loop, with these attorneys citing ‘legal precedent’ derived not from a serious analysis of case law, but from the rantings of conspiracy theorists sharing amateur analysis and legal fantasy in their social media echo chambers.” Parker walloped the claims set forth in the supporting affidavits (describing one affidavit as “a masterclass on making conjectural leaps and bounds”) and slamming the lawyers for failing to check if the speculation and conjecture they were relying upon were plausibly true. She dismissed their repeated calls that a trial to determine whether fanciful affidavits were correct by noting that “Plaintiffs are not entitled to rely on the discovery process to mine for evidence that never existed in the first instance.”

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Parker went after Powell by name for using the pleadings to advance her personal and political agenda:

It is not acceptable to support a lawsuit with opinions, which counsel herself claims no reasonable person would accept as fact and which were “inexact,” “exaggerate[ed],” and “hyperbole.” Nor is it acceptable to use the federal judiciary as a political forum to satisfy one’s political agenda. Such behavior by an attorney in a court of law has consequences. Although the First Amendment may allow Plaintiffs’ counsel to say what they desire on social media, in press conferences, or on television, federal courts are reserved for hearing genuine legal disputes which are well-grounded in fact and law.

And Parker concluded that these lawyers initiated the litigation with an improper political purpose that could not be retroactively shielded with First Amendment claims:

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Once it appeared that their preferred political candidate’s grasp on the presidency was slipping away, Plaintiffs’ counsel helped mold the predetermined narrative about election fraud by lodging this federal lawsuit based on evidence that they actively refused to investigate or question with the requisite level of professional skepticism—and this refusal was to ensure that the evidence conformed with the predetermined narrative (a narrative that has had dangerous and violent consequences). Plaintiffs’ counsel’s politically motivated accusations, allegations, and gamesmanship may be protected by the First Amendment when posted on Twitter, shared on Telegram, or repeated on television. The nation’s courts, however, are reserved for hearing legitimate causes of action.

Before imposing sanctions Parker concluded simply: “This lawsuit should never have been filed.” Her scrupulous, detailed ruling, along with Wednesday’s other good truth-based news, reflect the fact that a made-for-TV insurrection can still have consequences in the real world, and—more importantly—that the institutions charged with differentiating between the two still sometimes remain admirably up to the task.

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