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Rudy Giuliani and the Big Lie

  • January 31, 2021
  • Clayton Rice, Q.C.

On January 25, 2021, Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudolph W. Giuliani who was a central figure in the efforts of former President Donald J. Trump to subvert the 2020 election in the United States. Dominion claims that Mr. Giuliani carried out a “viral disinformation campaign” comprised of “demonstrably false” allegations that resulted in employees of the company receiving death threats. Dominion asserts that, although Mr. Giuliani was unwilling to make false election fraud claims in court, he and his allies disseminated the “Big Lie” deceiving millions of people into believing that Dominion “had stolen their votes and fixed the election.” Dominion seeks $1.3 billion in damages.

1. Introduction

The Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia comes on the heels of the lawsuit filed by Dominion against former pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell that I discussed in my last post to On The Wire. (here and here) It is another compendious action consisting of 107 pages with 237 footnotes including references to Mr. Giuliani’s podcast “where he exploited election falsehoods” and marketed gold coins, supplements, cigars and protection from “cyberthieves”. In The New York Times edition of January 25, 2021, Nick Corasaniti described the complaint as “a point-by-point rebuke of one of the more outlandish conspiracy theories surrounding last year’s election.” (here) And in an article published the following day by The Washington Post, Drew Harwell said the lawsuit “frames Giuliani not as an ideological crusader but as a shrewd marketer eager to monetize his growing fan base”. (here)

2. Who’s Who?

The plaintiffs, generally referred to under the umbrella of Dominion Voting Systems, are the same three corporate entities which filed the complaint against Ms. Powell. It is a Delaware corporation founded in Toronto, Canada, to create a fully auditable paper-based vote system that would empower people with disabilities to vote independently on verifiable paper ballots. Mr. Giuliani, a high-profile New York attorney, is a former mayor of New York who gained prominence in the 1990s for the controversial clean-up of Times Square. He became popularly known as “America’s Mayor” during the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and is now a YouTube podcast host, media figure and the personal attorney to Mr. Trump.

3. Dominion: Round Two

Dominion asserts that, by at least Election Day 2020, Mr. Giuliani had decided to claim that Mr. Trump won the election – regardless of the evidence. Sitting in the White House on election night, Mr. Giuliani “ranted” to top campaign aides: “There’s no way he lost; this thing must have been stolen. Just say we won Michigan! Just say we won Georgia! Just say we won the election! He needs to go out and claim victory!” Even after the United States Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, Mr. Giuliani “shirked responsibility for the consequences of his words and repeated the Big Lie again.” Here are five extracts from the complaint that will give you the tone and substance of what Dominion alleges Mr. Giuliani said:

  • On November 9, 2020, the Trump campaign filed a complaint challenging the legitimacy of mail-in ballots and the conduct of election officials in Pennsylvania. A few days later, Giuliani gave a televised interview on Lou Dobbs Tonight, falsely telling a global audience that Dominion is owned by Smartmatic and that Smartmatic was formed “in order to fix elections” by “three Venezuelans who were very close to…the dictator Chavez of Venezuela.” The next day, on his weekday radio show, Mr. Giuliani falsely told his audience that “Dominion software…really is Venezuelian…it’s called Smartmatic.” The day after that, Giuliani falsely tweeted that Dominion is “a front for Smartmatic.”
  • On November 13, 2020, Giuliani posted an episode of his podcast, in which he capitalized on publicity he was receiving because of the Big Lie about Dominion. Along with the false accusation that Dominion had stolen the election “technologically”, Giuliani warned  his viewers about “cyberthieves” stealing home titles “online”, and threw his arms in the air as if to emphasize the obvious danger of entrusting important matters to technology. Giuliani then pitched his viewers on a service they could buy to protect themselves for just $596 for the 4-year service if they used the promo code “Rudy” when ordering.
  • On November 18, 2020, Giuliani broadcast an episode of his podcast, again repeating false accusations about Dominion and again airing his direct-to-camera pitch for protection from cyberthieves. After decrying how an American election had been fixed by a Venezuelan-owned company, Giuliani marketed cigars from an “American-owned” company, offering “$20 off orders over $100” if his viewers used the code “Rudy20” when ordering. The same day he released that episode, Giuliani appeared for a televised interview on the Fox Business show Lou Dobbs Tonight. He repeated his lies about Dominion and falsely represented that Congresswoman Maloney wrote a letter supporting his false claims.
  • On November 19, 2020, Giuliani gave a televised press conference alongside Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., in which he peddled the falsehoods that he and other Trump Campaign attorneys were apparently unwilling to make in their own court filings, namely, that Dominion provided a “Venezuelan voting machine” and “is owned by two Venezuelans who were allies of Chavez, are present allies of Maduro,” and “whose Chairman is a close associate and business partner of George Soros. In addition, Giuliani held Sidney Powell out as representing Donald Trump and the Trump Campaign, even though he knew she would tell a global television audience the same lies about Dominion that Giuliani himself was unwilling to make in court, but which Giuliani had been promoting on television and online.
  • Despite the lack of evidence expressly acknowledged by Tucker Carlson and others at Fox News, Fox News gave Giuliani a platform on Sean Hannity’s show that very evening to make the false accusation that “a Dominion employee” in Detroit on election night had been “notified by Smartmatic in Frankfurt that Biden was way behind.” Giuliani warned, “[t]hese people want to destroy us. They are very, very bad people…Somehow, the Democrat party was hijacked by Clinton, and since then, it’s gone more corrupt and more corrupt and more corrupt.” Then, making a throat-slashing motion, Giuliani instructed viewers: “Somebody’s got to cut the head off.”

Mr. Giuliani responded to the lawsuit almost immediately by text message saying that it amounted to intimidation and he was considering a countersuit. “The amount being asked for is, quite obviously, intended to frighten people of faint heart,” he said. “It is another act of intimidation by the hate-filled left-wing to wipe out and censor the exercise of free speech, as well as the ability of lawyers to defend their clients vigorously.” Whatever “hate-filled” rhetoric Mr. Guiliani imputed to the left wing, however, pales in comparison to his own – and the death threats received by Dominion and its employees. During his Christmas Day podcast, Mr. Guiliani said: “All these people involved with the fraud need to be executed for treason.” Here’s an extract from one of the messages left on Dominion’s customer support line:

“You’re all fucking dead, You’re all fucking dead. We’re bringing back the firing squad and you fuckers are all dead, everybody involved up against the wall you motherfuckers. We’re gonna have a fucking lottery to fucking give people a chance to shoot you motherfuckers you fucking wait you cocksuckers you commie pieces of shit. We’re going to fucking kill you all you motherfuckers. After a fair trial of course you pieces of shit. The American people are fucking coming for you this is the end of your fucking line guys your fucking days are numbered you better enjoy your Thanksgiving because you’ll never see another one you fucking cocksuckers.”

On January 6, 2021, Mr. Giuliani spurred the crowd assembled at the White House before it stormed the Capitol. “Let’s have trial by combat,” he said. (here) Dominion claims that it has spent more than $565,000 on private security for the protection of its employees and incurred over $1 million in expenses to mitigate the harm to its reputation and business. Last week, YouTube suspended Mr. Giuliani from its partner program citing “repeated violation” of its policy that prevents false claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. (here)

4. Professional Jeopardy Heats Up

On January 11, 2021, the New York State Bar Association announced that it received “hundreds of complaints” about Mr. Giuliani’s baseless claims of voter fraud and started an inquiry into whether he should be removed from membership. Since then, pressure has been mounting to revoke his licence to practice law. (here) He now faces at least two more disciplinary complaints by attorney groups citing “his repeated voter fraud claims” and his “incendiary remarks” before the Capitol riot. The first complaint by Lawyers Defending Democracy was followed by one filed by Michael Miller, a past president of the New York Bar Association and fifty-five other attorneys, law professors and retired judges. (here) Authority over the conduct of lawyers rests with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York and the discipline and grievance committees appointed by the court.

5. Conclusion

“As a lawyer, Rudy Giuliani is well aware that he can be sanctioned for making false claims in court. That’s why he never mentioned Dominion in court and admitted in court that his case wasn’t a fraud case,” Dominion lawyer Thomas Clare said in a statement. “Instead, he peddled his lies about Dominion in the court of public opinion, in concert with reckless media outlets that knowingly gave him a global platform to spew baseless falsehoods and to undermine confidence in our democracy.” Mr. Clare said there will be others – no one is off the list at this point. (here)

On January 28, 2021, Atlanta lawyer L. Lin Wood, also prominent in the efforts to overturn the election, put his law licence on the line by refusing to “undergo a mental health evaluation” requested by the State Bar of Georgia. (here) Mr. Wood had promoted a conspiracy theory that a cabal of international communists and Chinese intelligence plotted to steal the election from Mr. Trump and litigated failed lawsuits to prevent the certification of the results. “I have done nothing wrong,” Mr. Wood said on Telegram. “I have only exercised my right of free speech.”

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