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Here’s how seriously you should take the Trump legal team’s conspiracy theories

Attorney Sidney Powell speaks during a news conference with Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, about lawsuits contesting the results of the presidential election at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington on Nov. 19. (Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post)

It takes some real talent to show up President Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani at a news conference in which he riffs for nearly an hour about grand conspiracies rife with rampant voter fraud across the country, evidence for which would be presented at a time to be determined. Yet as soon as Giuliani’s remarks concluded, Sidney Powell managed that feat.

Powell, who serves as an attorney both for Trump and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, walked to the lectern, thanked Giuliani — and then went buckwild.

“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 began. She linked voting systems used in several states with a company founded by a former Venezuelan dictator (despite there not being any actual link) and declared that computers were humming along rigging the election for President-elect Joe Biden until it encountered a level “so overwhelming in so many of these states that it broke the algorithm,” necessitating the fraud that Giuliani alleged. Oh, and this all somehow tied back to financier George Soros and the Clinton Foundation, of course.

Had it been delineated by an Infowars commentator during a five-hour, fixed-camera screed, it would have felt quite natural. But this was a lawyer for the president of the United States, speaking at the headquarters of the Republican Party.

There was one comment Powell made, though, that hasn’t received much attention, an exchange that makes clear just how little credence should be given to her claims. It came during a brief question-and-answer period at the end of the news conference.

“Speaking of our vote being held and processed, tabulated overseas,” someone in attendance said, “there is reports that there was a piece of hardware, possibly a server picked up in Germany. Is that true, and is it related to this?”

“That is true,” Powell replied. “It is somehow related to this, but I do not know whether good guys got it or bad guys got it.”

“So we don’t know who picked it up?” the questioner asked.

Powell shook her head no.

If you hadn’t heard of this reporting about a seized server, that is apparently because you haven’t been watching One America News.

Or perhaps you’ve never heard of OAN. The short description is that it’s trying to steal as much of Fox News’s audience as possible by being 1) more fervently supportive of Trump, 2) further to the right politically and 3) less beholden to niceties like “journalism” or “validating dubious claims.” The channel’s star is Chanel Rion, whose past reporting has included alleging that the coronavirus was developed in a North Carolina lab (based on something she read in a tweet) and joining Giuliani in interviewing someone later revealed to be a Russian agent. She has also been front and center on the voting machine story, most recently making allegations similar to Powell’s by interviewing a central actor in the QAnon conspiracy. Trump, naturally, loves her.

Assuming that this is what the questioner was asking about, the German server thing followed a typical path to being broadcast on the network.

“New reports claim that the real results of the 2020 U.S. election were found on a computer server that was seized by the U.S. military in Frankfurt, Germany,” an OAN personality said in a segment on the allegation. “In a recent tweet, a Virginia congressional candidate shared an electoral map that’s allegedly based on this data from that server. It shows a landslide victory for President Trump with a 410 electoral-college vote, including liberal strongholds California and Minnesota.”

Here is that “recent tweet” which constitutes one of the “new reports.”

Manga Anantatmula was a congressional candidate, earning the Republican nomination in Virginia’s 11th District after facing no opposition. She was beaten by more than 40 percentage points on Election Day.

Her source for this report? The well-known outlet Great Game India, a self-described “journal of geopolitics and international relations.” The top link on its website now is about how someone has debunked the idea that the coronavirus emerged naturally.

That electoral college map doesn’t appear in the article, by the way. It appears to instead come from a tweet from former professional baseball player Aubrey Huff.

How it then made its way into Anantatmula’s assessment of this “seized server” isn’t clear. This was nonetheless the rationale for OAN to declare that, you know, maybe Trump won California. Which of course he didn’t. The specific claim makes no sense, any more than there being “real” results which were somehow intercepted between Frankfurt and any given state capital.

But it wasn’t just that one “report.” There was also commentary from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.). Gohmert (himself no stranger to out-there allegations) claimed that “U.S. Army forces went into Scytl and grabbed their server.” Syctl, he said, is a company from Barcelona which was somehow tasked with tabulating election results from its new headquarters in Germany. He added that some people thought that U.S. intelligence agencies had manipulated the results and called it “extremely compelling evidence.”

These claims were broadcast alongside the following tweet.

A rough translation mirrors the same claims as presented by Gohmert. “Something big is coming,” it begins.

Now, you might have expected OAN to include Scytl’s expansive denial of these weird claims or even to, you know, not air extremely dubious claims based on allegations made in a couple of tweets or by a member of Congress with a somewhat iffy record. If that is what you expected of OAN, you should scroll back up and read the paragraph beginning “Or perhaps you’ve never heard of it.”

It was this, it seems, which Powell endorsed during the Trump campaign’s news conference Thursday. Her assessment of it — that she didn’t know “whether good guys got it or bad guys got it” — doesn’t make any sense in context, but that didn’t stop her from giving her stamp of approval. Yes, she said, the Scytl thing and her other allegations were “somehow related” to her grand conspiracy of Venezuela and communists and Soros and algorithms. It all fit together, somehow, if we could just figure out whether it was the good guys or the bad guys who did the thing which was done according to that tweet.

And that’s how credibly you should take the campaign’s news conference.

Update: Another indicator of how seriously you should take Powell’s claims.