WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge cleared the way Wednesday for a defamation case by Dominion Voting Systems to proceed against Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Lindell, allies of former President Donald Trump who had all falsely accused the company of rigging the 2020 presidential election.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols ruled that there was no blanket protection on political speech and denied an argument from two of the defendants that the federal court in Washington wasn’t the proper venue for the case.
“As an initial matter, there is no blanket immunity for statements that are ‘political’ in nature,” the judge wrote in the 44-page ruling.
While courts have recognized there are some hyperbolic statements in political discourse, “it is simply not the law that provably false statements cannot be actionable if made in the context of an election,” Nichols wrote.
The judge also rejected Powell and Lindell’s arguments that Dominion had failed to meet a legal burden that their statements were made with “actual malice.”
He outlined several instances where the trio made outlandish and blatantly false claims, including when Powell stated that the company was created in Venezuela to rig elections for the late leader Hugo Chavez and that it can switch votes.
In allowing the lawsuit to go forward, Nichols said Dominion had adequately proved that Powell made statements that could lead to a lawsuit “because a reasonable juror could conclude that they were either statements of fact or statements of opinion that implied or relied upon facts that are provably false.” Dominion has sought $1.3 billion in damages from the trio.
The judge used similar language against Lindell, the founder and CEO of MyPillow, saying Dominion proved Lindell had “made his claims knowing that they were false or with reckless disregard for the truth.”
Powell and Giuliani, both lawyers who filed election challenges on Trump’s behalf, and Lindell, who was one of Trump’s most ardent public supporters, made various unproven claims about the voting machine company. Many of those statements came at news conferences, during election rallies and on social media and television.
There was no widespread fraud in the election, which a range of election officials across the country, including Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, have confirmed. Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, key battleground states crucial to Biden’s victory, also vouched for the integrity of the elections in their states.
Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies were dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court, which includes three Trump-nominated justices.
The judge’s ruling came just a day after the vote-counting machine maker filed defamation lawsuits against right-wing broadcasters Newsmax Media Inc. and One America News Network, as well as Patrick Byrne, a prominent Trump ally and former chief executive of Overstock.com.