Justice Dept. Suspects Trump Supporter of Influencing Jan. 6 Riot Prosecutions
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is asking a federal judge to investigate whether former Trump attorney Sidney Powell is contributing funds to the legal defense of the right ring extremist Oath Keepers accused of raiding the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Justice Department says any funding from Powell’s nonprofit organization, called Defending the Republic, could create a conflict of interest for defense attorneys.
Media reports suggest Powell raised millions of dollars by spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election while asking for donations from supporters of the former president.
The Justice Department’s court filing this week is another example of the rift between Donald Trump and federal prosecutors that started while he still was president.
Hundreds of them threatened to resign if he required them to use legal action to continue his voter fraud allegations, according to congressional testimony this week from Justice Department officials testifying about Trump’s role in the insurrection.
In their court filing this week, prosecutors wrote that they wanted federal court oversight “in the process of addressing a potential conflict before it undermines a proceeding and a defendant’s right to competent and conflict-free representation.”
Four defendants accused of obstructing the official business of Congress through the insurrection took funds from Powell’s organization, according to media reports that started with BuzzFeed and Mother Jones.
They include Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes. He and two others are charged with seditious conspiracy against the United States.
The Justice Department prosecutors said they wanted to ensure defense attorneys complied with legal ethics rules that bar them from taking funding from outside sources unless the clients give consent. The rules also forbid the attorneys from sharing confidential client information.
The prosecutors’ court filing says the judge should make sure Powell’s organization is creating “no interference with the lawyer’s independence … or with the client-lawyer relationship.”
Prosecutors were concerned Powell was discouraging the defendants from accepting plea bargains that might result in reduced sentences for them. Four defendants charged with conspiracy already accepted plea deals that required them to cooperate with the government.
At least 865 accused insurrectionists have been charged with a variety of crimes. Many have accepted plea bargains.
Powell is one of several Trump associates who refused to cooperate with the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. She represented Trump in lawsuits he filed to challenge the 2020 election results in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The claims she repeated of election fraud have led to attorney disciplinary action against her in Texas, where she is licensed to practice law. The State Bar of Texas’ Commission for Lawyer Discipline is suing her for misconduct.
The state bar also is suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his assistant, Brent Webster, for their roles in challenging the election results.
Meanwhile, the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection wrapped up its fifth hearing Thursday with evidence of Trump’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department to overturn the 2020 election results. The committee plans additional hearings but has not yet announced a date for the next one.
The lawsuit against Powell in Texas is Commission for Lawyer Discipline v. Sidney Powell, case number DC-22-02562, in the 116th District Court in Dallas County, Texas.
Tom can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @tramstack.
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