Donald Trump has made some pretty outlandish claims since the election. The lawyer his legal team just ditched went too far even for him.
It turns out even Donald Trump has limits.
The US President and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have spent the weeks since his election defeat to Joe Biden making all sorts of wild, unsubstantiated claims about widespread voter fraud.
Trump's Twitter feed has been a non-stop whirlwind tour of debunked conspiracy theories.
At a media conference last week, Giuliani unleashed a barrage of fraud allegations, citing affidavits already dismissed by judges for lacking credibility and, in some cases, providing no evidence whatsoever.
The other leading members of Trump's legal team were there as well. One of them was Sidney Powell.
"This is representative of our legal team," Giuliani said at the start of the event.
"When I finish, Sidney Powell and then Jenna Ellis will follow me. And we will present, in brief, the evidence that we've collected.
"There are a lot more lawyers working on this, but I guess we're the senior lawyers."
Giuliani yielded the microphone to Powell multiple times throughout the press conference.
She proceeded to describe a fantastical scheme in which multiple companies responsible for creating voting systems in the US conspired with communist regimes overseas to rig the election by switching votes from Trump to Biden. She provided no proof.
"President Trump won by a landslide. We are going to prove it," Powell said.
There was no hint of any disagreement between Powell and the other lawyers at the lectern. The Republican Party's official Twitter account shared clips of her statement, presenting it as fact to millions of followers.
Then, yesterday, she was suddenly ditched.
Three days after presenting Powell as one of Trump's leading lawyers, Giuliani and Ellis issued a curt statement disowning her.
"Sidney Powell is practising law on her own. She is not a member of the Trump legal team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity," they said.
What happened in those three intervening days? In short, Powell – who was known for peddling baseless conspiracy theories, including QAnon content, long before she joined the Trump team – finally managed to push things too far.
"She was too crazy even for the President," a campaign official told The Washington Post.
POWELL'S CORE CONSPIRACY THEORY
Before we get to the moment that led the Trump team to distance itself from Ms Powell, you need a more thorough explanation of her core conspiracy theory.
This is how she put it when Giuliani gave her the floor last week. You might think the quote is a bit lengthy – let me assure you, it's a condensed version.
"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," Powell said.
"The Dominion voting systems, the Smartmatic technology software and the software that goes in other computerised voting systems here as well – not just Dominion – were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election after one constitutional referendum came out the way he did not want it to come out.
"We have one very strong witness who has explained how it all works. His affidavit is attached to the pleadings of Lin Wood in the lawsuit he filed in Georgia. It is a stunning, detailed affidavit."
Side note – the lawsuit in question has already been thrown out. Judge Steven Grimberg issued a rather scaling ruling on the matter.
"He was with Hugo Chavez when he saw it operate to make sure the election came out his way," Powell continued.
"That was the express purpose for creating this software. He has seen it operate and as soon as he saw that multiple states shut down the voting on the night of the election, he knew the same thing was happening here, that that was what had gone on.
"Now, the software itself was created with so many variables and so many back doors that can be hooked up to the internet or a thumbdrive stuck in it or whatever, but one of its most characteristic features is its ability to flip votes.
"It can set and run an algorithm that probably ran all over the country to take a certain percentage of votes from President Trump and flip them to President Biden, which we might never have uncovered had the votes for President Trump not been so overwhelming in so many of these states that it broke the algorithm that had been plugged into the system, and that's what caused them to have to shut down in the states they shut down in.
"That's when they came in the backdoor with all the mail-in ballots, many of which they had actually fabricated. Some were on pristine paper with identically matching perfect circle dots for Mr Biden. Others were shoved in in batches, they're always put in in a certain number of batches, and people would rerun the same batch.
"Notably, the Dominion executives are nowhere to be found now. They are moving their offices overnight to different places. Their office in Toronto was shared with one of the Soros entities, one of the leaders of the Dominion Project overall is Lord Malloch-Brown, Soros' number two person in the UK, and part of his organisation.
"There are ties of the Dominion leadership to the Clinton Foundation and to other known politicians in this country."
We could keep going here, but I think you get the idea by now.
Dominion Voting Systems is a Canadian company behinds the software some of America's counties use for their elections. It is not connected to the Clinton Foundation, nor to George Soros (a billionaire who donates to the Democrats and frequently features in right-wing conspiracy theories).
Trump has repeatedly claimed Dominion's software cancelled votes cast for him and replaced them with votes for Biden, specifically in Georgia and Michigan.
Georgia has done a full recount by hand. It found no evidence at all of such vote-flipping, and confirmed Biden's victory in the state.
The President's own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, has concluded there is "no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised".
Smartmatic is a company which builds electronic voting systems. It was founded in the United States, and is currently headquartered in England.
It did provide its technology to Venezuela for several years, but stopped operating there in 2018 after publicly accusing the government of committing election fraud. A few years earlier, in 2015, its systems were used as Venezuela's opposition party won a parliamentary majority.
Smartmatic says its technology was used in Los Angeles County, and nowhere else, for this year's election. California is not a swing state and is not subject to any litigation from the Trump campaign.
Dominion and Smartmatic say they are competitors, and have denied using each other's technology in any way. The only discernible connection between them is that, in the mid-2000s, Dominion bought assets from a third company three years after it had been sold by Smartmatic.
So to summarise, Powell believes a pair of companies in cahoots with Venezuela, Soros and the Clinton Foundation used a secret algorithm to change a certain percentage of Trump's votes to support Biden instead, making it seem as though Biden won the election when Trump actually won in a landslide.
THE INTERVIEW THAT DOOMED HER
Apparently none of that stuff was too extreme for the Trump team, because Giuliani happily gave Powell a platform from which to air it.
She finally managed to cross the line during an interview with Newsmax over the weekend.
Speaking to the right-wing network, Powell added even more to her theory, accusing Georgia's Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger of taking bribes to let Dominion rig their state's election.
Both men, incidentally, are Republicans. Kemp in particular has been a vocal supporter of Trump in the past.
"Georgia is probably going to be the first state I'm going to blow up," Powell said.
"And Mr Kemp and the Secretary of State need to go with it, because they're in on the Dominion scam.
"The state Bureau of Investigation for Georgia ought to be looking into financial benefits received by Mr Kemp and the Secretary of State.
"Another benefit Dominion was created to award is what I would call election insurance. That's why Hugo Chavez had it created in the first place. But I also wonder where he got the technology, where it actually came from, because I think it's hammer and scorecard from the CIA."
Newsmax's hosts pressed her for more details on the claim about Kemp.
"Just to clarify, you're saying Governor Kemp, who's been a longtime ally of the President, is directly involved because of financial benefit, in a conspiracy to defeat the President in Georgia?" one of them asked.
"We have certainly been told that there is evidence of that. It would warrant an investigation, if anyone were actually going to do an honest investigation" Powell replied.
"What more could you tell us about that alleged conspiracy?" asked the host.
"I can't give you any more details on that now," she told him.
"But it would certainly warrant an investigation. If it had been reported to me as a law enforcement officer, I would be investigating it steadfastly."
Powell had been promising the campaign would file a fresh lawsuit in Georgia, with all sorts of explosive but unspecified evidence. The hosts asked whether she could share any of that proof with them.
"Well, I can't say that yet. But hopefully, this week, we will get it ready to file. And it will be biblical," she said.
"We've got tons of evidence. It's so much, it's hard to pull it all together."
Kemp and Raffensperger have both drawn the President's ire for certifying Georgia's election results. Raffensperger in particular has gone out of his way to shoot down some of Trump's more far-fetched fraud claims.
Nevertheless, it seems accusing Kemp of a crime without providing a shred of proof was too much, even for Trump.
Powell's Newsmax interview followed a clash with Tucker Carlson, a Fox News commentator supportive of Trump who laid into her last week for making big claims about election fraud without backing them up.
"We took Sidney Powell seriously, with no intention of fighting with her. We've always respected her work and we simply wanted to see the details," Carlson told his viewers.
"But she never sent us any evidence, despite a lot of polite requests. When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her.
"When we checked with others around the Trump campaign, people in positions of authority, they also told us Powell had never given them any evidence to prove anything she claimed at the press conference."
After she was cut loose by the Trump team yesterday, Powell gave a brief statement to CBS News.
"I understand today's press release," she said.
"I will continue to represent #WeThePeople who had their votes for Trump and other Republicans stolen by massive fraud through Dominion and Smartmatic, and we will be filing (a) suit soon. The chips will fall where they may, and we will defend the foundations of this great republic."