WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors have demanded the financial records of multiple fundraising organizations launched by attorney Sidney Powell after the 2020 election as part of a criminal investigation, according to a subpoena reviewed by The Washington Post.
The grand jury subpoena, issued in September by the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, sought communications and other records related to fundraising and accounting by groups including Defending the Republic, a Texas-based organization claiming 501(c) 4 nonprofit status, and a PAC by the same name, according to the documents and a person familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the probe.
As part of the investigation, which has not been previously reported, prosecutors are seeking records going back to Nov. 1, 2020.
The subpoena reviewed by The Post was signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston, who is also handling politically charged matters related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including contempt of Congress charges brought against former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon for refusing to testify in front of the House committee investigating the pro-Trump riot.
In an email, an attorney for Defending the Republic said, “We have always known the more effective we are, the more the false attacks will intensify. Defending the Republic has and will continue to fight for #WeThePeople who make this country work.”
“Defending the Republic and the PAC will not be diverted from their missions by lies, innuendo and other distractions,” added the attorney, Howard Kleinhendler. “We believe in the law, the Rule of Law, and we intend to follow it and work to reinstate and preserve it.”
Powell herself did not respond to a phone call and emailed questions about the groups. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington D.C., said, “We don’t typically confirm the existence or nonexistence of an investigation, and decline to comment.”
The federal investigation highlights the intensifying legal quandaries facing Trump-allied attorneys and other figures who promoted false claims that the election was rigged. Earlier this year, Defending the Republic was fined by Florida authorities and named in a federal defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems, the Denver-based company portrayed by Powell as part of a plot to steal the 2020 election.
Powell, a former federal prosecutor who gained prominence on the right while representing former national security adviser Michael Flynn, became a leading figure in efforts to use the courts to overturn the 2020 vote. In a series of media interviews after the election, and in a news conference held jointly with Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee, she alleged a vast scheme to manipulate voting machines to steal the election from Trump.
Her fantastical claims formed the basis of lawsuits she filed on behalf of voters and Trump electors challenging the results in multiple states. The lawsuits failed to convince judges, who dismissed each as groundless.
In the meantime, Powell was soliciting contributions from Trump supporters to help fund her efforts. She began asking for donations as early as Nov. 10, 2020, a week after the election, telling viewers of the “Lou Dobbs Tonight” show on Fox Business that she had started a website called “defendingtherepublic.org” where they could donate.
Visitors reached a site that requested donations to support her election litigation. “Over $500,000 must be raised in the next twenty-four hours for these suits to be filed. Millions more will need to be raised to ensure victory,” the site stated around that time, according to an archived version.
By Nov. 25, the day Powell filed the first two of her lawsuits claiming widespread fraud, defendingtherepublic.org included a large picture of Powell and said her aim was to use the courts to block the certification of Biden’s victory. The website solicited donations for “Sidney Powell’s Legal Defense Fund” and indicated to potential donors that they would be contributing to a 501(c) 4 social welfare organization. Donors were asked to make checks payable to Sidney Powell P.C., Powell’s law firm.
It was not until Dec. 1 that Defending the Republic was incorporated as a business in Texas, with Powell listed as its agent and director, according to state records. An authorized representative for the group, Brandon Johnson, said in an August deposition taken as part of a defamation lawsuit against Powell that he knew nothing about donations made online before Dec. 1. “I don’t know where they went, but they did not go to Defending the Republic,” Johnson said in the deposition.
It is not clear how much money the organization has raised since it was incorporated or how that money has been spent. Defending the Republic contributed $550,000 to fund a Republican-commissioned review of nearly 2.1 million ballots cast last year in Arizona, according to an accounting released in July by Cyber Ninjas, a contractor that led the review.
Powell, when asked in a July deposition whether her law firm would receive compensation through donations made to Defending the Republic, replied, “I certainly hope we will,” maintaining that her firm had not been paid for bringing election-related lawsuits.
In an estimated budget submitted this summer to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Defending the Republic projected revenue from donations of just over $7 million for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. The organization prepared the budget following a state complaint alleging multiple violations of Florida law, including failure to comply with charity registration law, and obtaining contributions by means of “deception, false pretense, misrepresentation, or false promise.” Defending the Republic paid a $10,000 fine to resolve the complaint, according to a settlement agreement reviewed by The Post.
Johnson, in his August deposition, said Defending the Republic was a “educational and charitable organization” and that its nonprofit status was “pending” with the IRS. Its mission, he said, includes “election integrity and, you know, educating the public about what it means to preserve and protect the republic.” He also said the group was advising clients seeking to contest vaccine and mask requirements.
According to Johnson’s deposition, the group’s directors have included Flynn and Flynn’s brother Joseph Flynn, as well as Patrick Byrne, the millionaire founder of Overstock.com. The Flynn brothers are listed as directors, alongside Powell, in corporate records filed in December. Both brothers, as well as Byrne, have departed their roles, Johnson said in his deposition.
Byrne told The Post he agreed to serve as chief executive of Defending the Republic at Powell’s request in March, but left after only a few weeks in early April, in part because of different management styles and concerns about the business’s financial oversight. He said that he doesn’t know how much Powell had raised and that when he urged a full audit of the organization’s finances, she resisted. Byrne said the Flynn brothers and the executive staff left the organization on the same day he did. He said he hasn’t communicated with Powell since he departed and he has not received a subpoena.
Neither of the Flynn brothers responded to requests for comment. Johnson also did not respond.
Johnson and Powell were deposed as part of an ongoing defamation lawsuit pursued in Colorado by a former Dominion employee against Powell and other individuals and organizations involved in challenging the results of the 2020 election.
Defending the Republic is also in Dominion’s crosshairs in federal court. A lawsuit filed by the company against Powell and her law firm in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia also names Defending the Republic as a defendant. A filing in May claims Powell “treated the entity’s funds as her personal funds, redirecting them to the law firm she controls and dominates and raiding them to pay for her personal legal defense.”
Dominion has pointed to an interview Powell gave late last year on “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” in which she asked listeners to visit Defending the Republic’s website to make a contribution, saying the group was “working to help defend all these cases and to defend me now that I’m under a massive attack from the attorney general of Michigan and the city of Detroit and everything else.” Lawyers there filed motions for Powell to cover their legal costs, which she and a handful of her associates were ultimately ordered to do.
A counterclaim filed by the defendants against Dominion in September denies the allegations, allowing only that Defending the Republic is a Texas nonprofit with the same mailing address as Powell’s law firm.
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The Washington Post’s Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.