Giuliani’s election conspiracy theory faces crucial court test

Erik Larson

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two other high-profile boosters of a debunked but active election conspiracy theory are set to appear in court together for the first time to seek dismissal of a trio of $1.3 billion defamation suits filed by Dominion Voting Systems Inc.

Thursday’s hearing in Washington may have political as well as legal consequences. If the suits are tossed out, it may give Trump room to brag that his false claims about a rigged 2020 election have merit, just as he embarks on a series of summer rallies beginning Saturday in Columbus, Ohio. Meanwhile the election technology company is depending on the lawsuits as it confronts what it says is a dire threat to its business.

Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, left, listens to Sidney Powell, both lawyers for President Donald Trump, during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters, Thursday Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington.

“We are excited to see this process moving forward to hold people accountable and defend Dominion’s good name,” Chief Executive Officer John Poulos said in a statement.

Dominion sued Giuliani, former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell and MyPillow Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mike Lindell for repeatedly claiming without evidence that the company and its employees were at the center of a vast plot to flip millions of votes away from Trump in November’s election, with help from foreign hackers, corrupt Democrats and “communist money.” The claim helped trigger the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and millions of Americans continue to believe the election was stolen.

Lawyers for the three didn’t return messages seeking comment on the hearing.

Gold Coins and Cigars

In court on Thursday, lawyers for Powell will urge U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, to throw out the case, arguing that “no reasonable person” would believe the Texas-based attorney’s claims about the company were “truly statements of fact.” She also argues they were “political speech” protected by the First Amendment.

In the company’s suit against Giuliani, the former New York mayor is accused of exploiting the unsupported election claims to hawk gold coins, cigars and nutrition supplements on a podcast. In a motion to dismiss the suit, Giuliani argued it was fatally flawed because Dominion had failed to properly tie his words to any actual financial losses.

In this March 30, 2020, file photo, My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell speaks as President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington.

Lindell, who threw the weight of his popular pillow company behind Trump, argued in his request to toss the suit that Dominion can’t prove he spread claims he knew to be false.

“There is simply no way for Dominion to meet its burden to plausibly plead that Mike Lindell has a shred of doubt about the statements he has made, because he has no doubt whatsoever,” his lawyer said in the April filing.

Destroyed Resale Value

Dominion says Giuliani, Powell and Lindell had no reason to believe the theory they advanced. The Trump campaign dropped Powell soon after a Nov. 19 news conference in which she said agents from Iran and China had infiltrated Dominion’s voting machines.

The Denver-based company cites what it says are extensive allegations about losses in the complaints, including that the conspiracy theory had “destroyed” the resale value of a business worth as much as $500 million and would result in lost profits of $200 million over the next five years. The company says it was also forced to spend more than $500,000 on security for employees after threats from Trump supporters.

A related suit Dominion brought against Fox News Network, which aired many of the conspiracy theory claims, faces a separate motion to dismiss in state court in Delaware. Fox argues its broadcasts are protected by the First Amendment and that it had a responsibly to air the claims.

Dozens of suits filed by Trump and his supporters seeking to block swing states from affirming the election results failed for lack of evidence, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected efforts to overturn the outcome.