Trump Voting-Fraud Boosters Grilled in Court, Giuliani a No-Show
(Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for former Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell and other boosters of a debunked conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen were grilled by a judge on why their claims about Dominion Voting Systems Inc. weren’t defamatory.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington is weighing their requests to dismiss a trio of $1.3 billion lawsuits Dominion filed against Powell, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and MyPillow Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mike Lindell. All three publicly accused the voting-technology company of conspiring to rig the election by flipping millions of votes in states that use its products.
Nichols, a Trump appointee, often appeared skeptical of arguments by the defendants at an in-person hearing in Washington on Thursday, and repeatedly reminded them that all Dominion has to do to avoid dismissal at this stage is to properly allege defamation using detailed claims and evidence.
Absent from the proceedings was Giuliani. Separately, the former New York mayor and federal prosecutor was suspended on Thursday from practicing law in New York by a state court that said he put the public at risk by spreading lies about the election.
Lindell’s lawyer, Andrew D. Parker, attempted to frame the dispute as a fight over the right to freely express opinions, arguing that the CEO’s statements about Dominion were valid because there are “millions of people on both sides of the issue” who are still debating the election. He criticized the company for portraying his client as a “wild-eyed crazy guy” while glossing over valid concerns about the alleged “hackability” of Dominion’s software.
Nichols pushed back, saying a debate over election security is “way different” from the defamatory lies Dominion is alleging. A public debate about election security “is not the same as saying a particular company intentionally committed voter fraud,” the judge said.
When hearing from Powell’s lawyer, Howard Kleinhendler, Nichols reminded the attorney more than once that his client hadn’t said her claims about Dominion were true, but rather that no “reasonable person” would believe they were statements of fact. The judge also questioned why Kleinhendler kept arguing that Powell’s remarks were in the clear from defamation because similar claims had been made in various election lawsuits.
“Is it your view that if somebody makes patently false statements in a lawsuit and then repeats them to the press then they’re not actionable?” Nichols asked.
“It depends,” Kleinhendler said. “You have to get to whether there was malicious intent.”
The judge noted that Dominion had properly alleged that Powell said in a TV interview that she had evidence of a Dominion employee admitting he could flip “millions” of votes. Kleinhendler conceded that evidence doesn’t exist but brushed it off as an isolated slip by a former campaign lawyer who “sometimes exaggerates one or two points.”
Giuliani’s lawyer, Joseph Sibley, focused on a narrower argument about damages, stressing his client’s claim that Dominion had failed to adequately explain how any of Giuliani’s allegedly defamatory comments resulted in lost profit for the company.
The three cases were combined for the limited purpose of the hearing on the motions to dismiss the suits. The judge said he would consider the arguments and may issue a written ruling for all three of the cases together, or separately.
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