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Judge: ‘Precious little proof’ in Georgia election fraud suit

POLITICO logo POLITICO 12/1/2020 By Josh Gerstein
a screen shot of a man: Members of the Gwinnett County adjudication review panel look over scanned ballots at the Gwinnett Voter Registrations and Elections office Nov. 8, 2020, in Lawrenceville, Ga. © Jessica McGowan/Getty Images Members of the Gwinnett County adjudication review panel look over scanned ballots at the Gwinnett Voter Registrations and Elections office Nov. 8, 2020, in Lawrenceville, Ga.

A judge handling an election-fraud lawsuit brought by allies of President Donald Trump said the case was backed by “precious little proof,” but went on to issue a restraining order aimed at blocking three Georgia counties from making any changes to their voting machines as he considers whether to permit a forensic examination of those systems, according to court records.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten Sr. made the comments during an hour-long Sunday night court hearing on a lawsuit filed last week by Sidney Powell, a firebrand attorney who briefly joined Trump’s legal team in recent weeks before being dismissed from it.

The hearing was held via Zoom and not announced in advance on the court’s docket or accessible to the press or public, but it was transcribed by a court reporter who provided the transcript to POLITICO on Monday evening.

The transcript shows that Batten repeatedly wavered on whether to grant any relief to the Republican plaintiffs in the case, before settling on the narrow relief limited to three counties.

Powell and her colleagues initially wanted all voting machines in the state impounded pending further court action, but the state’s lawyers said that would present a slew of problems, including preventing some local elections set for this week and potentially interfering with the pair of U.S. Senate runoff elections set for Jan. 5.

“What the plaintiffs are seeking is basically going to take certain voting equipment out of the equation for the election scheduled to take place this Tuesday, as well as the election scheduled to take place on January 5th, because plaintiffs are wanting us to hold and basically mothball and preserve these machines at the county level — not in our possession, not in our custody and control,” Assistant Attorney General Russ Willard Sr. told Batten.

“In terms of a currently underway election, it is going to be throwing sugar in the gas tank and gumming up the works.”

Batten seemed open to the plaintiffs conducting what he called “a quick inspection” of the machines, with Powell initially asking to scrutinize the machines from 10 counties. She said “the bulk” of the inspections could be conducted within three days.

When called on by the judge, Powell aired her startling claim that the machines from Dominion Voting Systems were impacted by an algorithm that markedly increased votes for the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and decreased them for Trump.

“It’s not just the data that comes out of the machines that is crucial to the fraud case that is so rampant across the country, it is the fact that an algorithm we believe was uploaded to the Dominion machines that weighted the votes for Mr. Biden over the votes for President Trump at approximately 1.22 versus .78, and that is what was crucial to making the proof of the fraud absolutely inconclusive and irrefutable,” Powell said.

Powell also asserted that Dominion was doing the handiwork of late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. “It was conceived and created by Mr. Chavez’s regime for the very purpose of ensuring that he won future elections — as corrupt as it could possibly be,” she said.

Powell’s statements grew even more extreme on Monday, as she retweeted a Twitter message that called on Trump to declare an insurrection, halt the planned convening of the Electoral College in each state in Dec. 14 and use “military tribunals” to investigate alleged fraud related to the just-completed election.

Dominion and election officials have said Powell’s claims about the company’s machines are nonsense. And during the hearing Sunday, her assertions seemed to grate on the state’s lawyer.

“I apologize. I am used to dealing with facts and law, not innuendo and accusation,” Willard replied. He went on to suggest that the kind of access Powell was demanding could put her or her experts in a position to commit fraud.

“It poses a security risk for Powell’s minions to go in and image everything, download the software, and figure out for future elections a way to hack in so their preferred candidates can win,” the Attorney General’s office representative said. “That is something no federal court can possibly countenance.”

Yet, Batten still seemed open to the idea, although he acknowledged to both sides he was going back and forth on the issue.

“Although they make allegations of tremendous worldwide improprieties regarding the Dominion voting machines, those allegations are supported by precious little proof,” the judge said.

As Batten appeared to be on the verge of denying the request for a TRO, Powell’s co-counsel Lin Wood spoke up and seemed to persuade the judge to at least freeze the machines in three counties for a possible inspection.

“I don’t see any harm to the state to preserve this information on a very limited basis,” Wood said.

Powell later called the proposal to inspect machines in Cobb, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties “the bare minimum.”

After Williard said he planned to appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Batten ultimately agreed to simply order a freeze of the machines in those three counties and to set an in-person hearing for Friday in Atlanta on whether an inspection of the machines should be permitted.

During the hearing, the judge also clarified that a pair of directives Wood posted online Sunday were “draft proposed orders” and not final orders in the case.

However, without mentioning Wood directly, Willard complained that the disclosures were stoking the rumor mill.

“There has been a lot of rumor, innuendo, and misinformation spread out there regarding what has taken place in a number of courts around the country, and this court today," the assistant attorney general said. "There were a number of social media posts made about this court’s indication of the two rulings."

Batten offered no public criticism of Wood for releasing the proposed orders the judge circulated to the parties Sunday.

As of late Monday night, no appeal had yet been filed in the case.

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