A federal judge has rejected bids by three top promoters of President Donald Trump’s election fraud claims to throw out defamation lawsuits they face over a slew of allegedly false statements they made about the election-technology firm Dominion.
Lawyers for former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and My Pillow founder Mike Lindell argued that the suits were legally deficient, but U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols ruled on Wednesday that the suits could proceed.
The three defendants’ arguments found little resonance with Nichols, a Trump appointee who seemed disdainful of their conduct and of suggestions that their statements were within the bounds of freewheeling political debate.
“As an initial matter, there is no blanket immunity for statements that are ‘political’ in nature,” Nichols wrote in his 44-page opinion. “It is true that courts recognize the value in some level of ‘imaginative expression’ or ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ in our public debate. … But it is simply not the law that provably false statements cannot be actionable if made in the context of an election.”
Nichols said many of the statements cited in the suit qualified as comments that could be seen as making factual claims capable of being proved true or false.
“The question, then, is whether a reasonable juror could conclude that Powell’s statements expressed or implied a verifiably false fact about Dominion,” the judge wrote. “This is not a close call.”
The judge noted that Powell repeatedly said the founder of Dominion claimed he could change vast numbers of votes at his whim.
“These statements are either true or not; either Powell has a video depicting the founder of Dominion saying he can ‘change a million votes,’ or she does not,” Nichols said.
Nichols also dismissed Powell’s defense that her allegations could not have met the “actual malice” standard because she was relying on sworn statements from people claiming to have knowledge of alleged improprieties and vulnerabilities in Dominion’s software.
“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. “And Dominion alleges that Powell’s ‘evidence’ was either falsified by Powell herself, misrepresented and cherry-picked, or so obviously unreliable that Powell had to have known it was false or had acted with reckless disregard for the truth.”
The ruling is far from the final word on the cases, which are several in a series of suits Dominion has filed against its critics and the news outlets that gave them prominent platforms. However, the decision was something of a rout for the Trump allies.
One measure of that is that Nichols even allowed the election technology company to press claims of deceptive trade practices against Powell and Lindell over their actions. Powell’s lawyers argued that she couldn’t be liable on that theory because she wasn’t “engaged in trade and commerce of goods” at the time of her statements.
However, the judge said the company had viable claims that Powell, Lindell and Lindell’s company, My Pillow, sought to profit financially by spreading false and inaccurate information.
A lawyer for Powell, Howard Kleinhendler, expressed disappointment in the decision, but signaled that the ruling opened up the possibility of court-ordered access to information about Dominion’s machines and how they performed last fall.
“We are disappointed with the Court’s decision,” Kleinhendler said in a statement. “However, we now look forward to litigating this case on its merits and proving that Ms. Powell’s statements were accurate and certainly not published with malice. We also anticipate taking full discovery of Dominion including a thorough review of its election software and machines used in the 2020 election.”
Attorneys for Giuliani and Lindell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Dominion said in a statement, “We are pleased to see this process moving forward to hold Mike Lindell, MyPillow, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Defending The Republic accountable.” Defending the Republic is a group run by Powell.