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Judge finds Rudy Giuliani liable for defamation of two Georgia election workers

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A judge has ruled against Rudy Giuliani in a defamation lawsuit brought by two election workers he falsely accused of committing voter fraud. The ruling comes as Giuliani faces criminal charges for similar actions in a sweeping racketeering indictment against the former New York mayor, former President Donald Trump and 17 others in Georgia. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler is covering the story. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey, there.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about this defamation lawsuit. Who brought it and what did Giuliani do to them?

FOWLER: Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss are this mother-daughter election worker duo, in Fulton County in Atlanta, at the center of a bunch of conspiracies and attacks from Trump, Giuliani and others who claimed without evidence they were counting fraudulent ballots in Georgia's presidential election that altered the outcome. Here's one of the accusations Giuliani made in a Georgia legislative hearing December 2020.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUDY GIULIANI: ...Tape earlier in the day of Ruby Freeman and Shaye Freeman Moss and one other gentleman quite obviously, surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they're vials of heroin or cocaine.

FOWLER: Now, Ari, in that particular video, they said they were passing a ginger mint to each other. Republican state officials in Georgia found no evidence of them altering the vote totals. And as Freeman testified to the House January 6 committee, they face life-altering threats and harassments because of these claims.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUBY FREEMAN: I've lost my name, and I've lost my reputation. I've lost my sense of security. All because a group of people, starting with number 45 and his ally, Rudy Giuliani, decided to scapegoat me and my daughter Shaye.

SHAPIRO: That was Ruby Freeman speaking. The judge issued what is called a default judgment against Giuliani, holding him liable on claims of defamation and more. Explain to us what that means.

FOWLER: So basically, Rudy Giuliani hasn't been turning over any of the evidence through the normal legal process called discovery in this lawsuit. Now he's called it, quote, "punishment by process." But federal judge Beryl Howell offered a scathing rebuke of Giuliani's failure to comply with discovery, dinging him for, quote, "donning a cloak of victimization that may play well on a public stage to certain audiences."

Now, Giuliani's got to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the election workers on top of nearly $100,000 a judge previously ordered. And this still goes to trial. But instead of deciding if he defamed these election workers with those comments, the question now will be how much he has to pay him - pay them for what he did.

SHAPIRO: And these false claims that Giuliani made are also central to the state racketeering case against former President Trump and others in Georgia. So explain how these two cases relate to each other.

FOWLER: Absolutely. So Giuliani faces charges in Georgia for comments that he made about Freeman and Moss, including that clip we just heard, accusing them of passing around USB drives like they were cocaine. Now, one of Donald Trump's felony charges he faces in this racketeering case also involves falsely calling Freeman a professional vote scammer, among other things about Georgia's election. And here's the thing - it's a central element to many of the charges and allegations in this racketeering case, including three people who face charges for allegedly trying to pressure Ruby Freeman to falsely confess to committing voter fraud. And it's very complicated because there's 19 different defendants, all with different legal strategies. But several experts that I've talked to say this particular defamation ruling and any evidence that Giuliani might eventually provide could be important for prosecutors in the racketeering case.

SHAPIRO: That is Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thank you.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.