WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday appeared skeptical of arguments to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems over baseless 2020 election claims made by Trump allies Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and the MyPillow Guy.
The voting system company sued the trio for $1.3 billion each after they claimed the company rigged the election for Democrat Joe Biden. Those claims, along with falsehoods from former President Donald Trump and others, helped spur a violent mob into storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, in a failed effort to stop the certification of Biden’s victory.
The three persisted making the accusations even after government officials, both Republican and Democrat, and Trump’s own attorney general said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Dominion’s voting equipment was used in several key battleground states.
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols heard arguments made by attorneys for Powell, Giuliani and Mike Lindell, CEO of Minnesota-based MyPillow, that the case should be dismissed. The attorneys argued the speech was protected by the First Amendment, that Dominion should be considered a government agency because it provided voting equipment for elections and treated like a public figure. And in some cases, attorneys said, the statements made about Dominion were true — and therefore couldn’t be considered malicious.
Nichols told the attorneys that the public debate over election security is “not the same as saying a particular company intentionally committed voter fraud.”
Powell and Giuliani, both lawyers who filed election challenges on Trump’s behalf, and Lindell made various unproven claims about the voting machine company, including that the company was created in Venezuela to rig elections for the late leader Hugo Chavez and that it has the ability to switch votes. Dominion has also sued Fox Newsand conservative media outlets over the same claims.
Dominion attorneys said that the three made purposeful and specific false claims aimed at defaming the voting company and that the claims persisted even after their legal claims challenging the election failed.
“These were statements made in press conferences, in rallies, on social medial, on television … including after the very lawsuits they’re referencing to the court were dismissed,” attorney Tom Clare said.
Powell and Lindell appeared in court; Giuliani, whose law license was suspended in New York on Thursday after a panel found he’d made false statements about the election, did not.
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 plans to rule at a later date.
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Washington contributed to this report.