Giuliani Can’t Dodge Vote-Fraud Defamation Suit, Judge Rules
(Bloomberg) -- Rudy Giuliani must face the $1.3 billion defamation suit filed against him by the voting technology company he falsely accused of rigging the 2020 election to hurt his client Donald Trump, a federal judge ruled.
The lawsuit, by Dominion Voting Systems Inc., properly explained how Giuliani’s false claims posed a threat to the company’s financial health, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols ruled Wednesday in Washington.
The decision deals a blow to a conspiracy theory still being pushed by high-profile Trump supporters, including many who back Republican efforts in dozens of states to pitch restrictive new voting laws.
Nichols, a Trump appointee, also ruled against former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, one of the architects of the theory, and MyPillow Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mike Lindell, who put the weight of his company behind the claims. All three must face Dominion’s lawsuits, the judge said.
“Powell, Giuliani, and Lindell all stated that they had evidence to prove their claims,” Nichols wrote, in a ruling that explained why he found they didn’t.
Messages seeking comment on the ruling from the three weren’t immediately returned.
The three defendants repeatedly claimed that Dominion had paid bribes to election officials, manipulated software to flip votes away from Trump in November’s presidential contest with Joe Biden, and had ties to Venezuela’s former president Hugo Chavez, among other falsehoods.
Just this week Dominion filed a new round of lawsuits against Newsmax Media Inc. and the owner of One America News Network, conservative media outlets that helped spread the election lies. Dominion has also sued Fox News. All have denied wrongdoing.
Dominion sued Giuliani and the others in April, each for $1.3 billion. The company, whose machines are used in dozens of states, argues a trial will prove they had no valid reason to claim the company was part of a vast plot to propel Biden to victory with help from foreign hackers, corrupt Democrats and “communist money.”
In his ruling Wednesday, Nichols noted that even after Dominion demanded retractions from Giuliani and Lindell, the two continued to make claims about the company in the days and weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters.
The day before the riot, Lindell told a crowd that civil war could erupt if “the truth” about Dominion didn’t come out, according to the ruling. That same day, Giuliani tweeted a link to his podcast claiming Dominion had “switched” votes, the judge said. In the hours before the insurrection, Nichols said, “Lindell and Giuliani made similar public statements to crowds” in Washington.
The judge appeared to take a particular interest in Powell’s numerous defenses. He criticized her for depending on unreliable “expert witnesses” to back her claims, noting that one such purported expert had tried to prove voter fraud in Michigan by citing data from locations in Minnesota.
“That expert has also publicly claimed that George Soros, President George H.W. Bush’s father, the Muslim Brotherhood, and ‘leftists’ helped form the ‘Deep State’ in Nazi Germany in the 1930s -- which would have been a remarkable feat for Soros, who was born in 1930,” the judge added.
The judge rejected each of Powell’s defenses, including her claim of blanket immunity from defamation claims for political statements during an election.
“It is true that courts recognize the value in some level of ‘imaginative expression’ or ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ in our public debate,” Nichols said. “But it is simply not the law that provably false statements cannot be actionable if made in the context of an election.”
He also tossed aside Powell’s claim that she can’t be sued because her allegations about Dominion were backed by anonymous affidavits.
“There is no rule that a defendant cannot act in reckless disregard of the truth when relying on sworn affidavits -- especially sworn affidavits that the defendant had a role in creating,” the judge wrote.
Nichols in June oversaw a joint hearing on the motions to dismiss filed by the three in Washington. He often appeared skeptical of arguments by the defendants, repeatedly reminding them that all Dominion had to do to avoid dismissal was to properly allege defamation using detailed claims and evidence.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.