Big Lie Pricetag Nearing $1 Billion

[ Posted Wednesday, March 27th, 2024 – 15:51 UTC ]

The pricetag of spreading Donald Trump's "Big Lie" -- that there were various forms of massive fraud committed in the 2020 presidential election -- is about to grow, once again. At this point it is impossible to predict exactly what the next legal cost will be, but it could easily send the total amount the Big Lie perpetrators have paid (or have been ordered to pay) north of one billion dollars. And this could still be just the beginning -- by the time the counting is fully done, this could jump to multiple billions in legal damages assessed against various bad actors.

Trump's Big Lie lived on past the 2020 election, of course, and it was taken up by various other Republicans who have lost elections since. The most notorious of these came from Arizona, after Kari Lake lost her race for governor. So even though this was a different election cycle, the fallout from Trump's original Big Lie still continues and should be added in to the running total.

Here is the new development in this ongoing story:

Kari Lake, a Republican Senate candidate in Arizona who has amplified former president Donald Trump's false claims about rigged elections, has decided not to defend statements she made about a top election official in the state's largest county who sued her for alleged defamation.

Attorneys for Lake, her 2022 campaign for governor and an affiliated nonprofit group on Tuesday asked a judge to begin the process of determining damages as part of a lawsuit brought by Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer (R), in his personal capacity. Attorneys not affiliated with the case say a judge must agree to the request.

Richer alleged in a lawsuit filed last year that Lake, her campaign and the group repeatedly and falsely accused him of causing Lake to lose the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election, unleashing a barrage of threats against him and his family. Richer's complaint sought to hold Lake and her allies accountable for her claims that Richer had "sabotaged the election to prevent Republican candidates, including Lake, from winning."

Lake requested the judge set what is known as a default judgment hearing, which would essentially bypass the legal process for her to defend her comments. She instead wants the court to hold a hearing to determine whether damages are owed to Richer and, if so, the amount.

This is the legal equivalent of waving a white flag and surrendering before the battle has even begun. Lake is essentially admitting that the charges against her are true and that she has no defense against them at all. If the judge agrees, then the only thing left to determine is how much Lake is going to have to pay Richer.

Lake, astonishingly, tried to spin this as some sort of victory (which is just laughable), tweeting out:

The political elite will do anything to hold onto power and STOP outsiders like me -- they've resorted to filing a ludicrous defamation lawsuit to try to stop me and bleed me dry.

Taking part in this lawfare just legitimizes it

Instead, I will continue to focus on the issues that matter to the people of Arizona: securing the border, bringing back our economy, and improving healthcare and education.

Arizona is worth fighting for, and that's what I will continue to do.

Um... OK, sure.

Lake isn't the first to completely crumble in the face of a defamation lawsuit brought by those harmed by all the various different iterations of Trump's Big Lie. Rudy Giuliani made exactly the same move in the court case brought against him by two Georgia election workers Giuliani had badly defamed, and it wound up costing him $148 million. Lake is likely making the same move for the same reason Rudy did -- to avoid the process of "discovery." In the discovery phase of a lawsuit, both sides get to see the paper trail from the other side, and they comb through it all to find evidence that supports their case. Since everything Lake accused Richer of doing was completely false, Lake would not have been helped by the discovery process at all (you can't find what isn't there, to put it another way). But Lake would have had to turn over all her communications from the period when she was making her Big Lie claims, and that would assumably have been a treasure trove of evidence for Richer to use in court. Ending the case prematurely by essentially admitting the other side is right avoids all of that.

Of course, the judge still has to agree -- or rule that discovery must happen anyway, to properly gauge the extent of the damages to be awarded. But the most likely outcome is that the trial will just move to the "How much does she owe?" phase, as it did with Giuliani.

Both of these cases involved innocent elections workers who were just doing their jobs when suddenly the Trump train ran them over. They were held up as masterminds of a "stolen" election who had conspired to overturn the will of the voters. None of this was true, but it changed their lives forever (for the worse). And in the American legal system, the person liable for those damages must pay restitution.

There is another category of Big Lie legal cases that already has had an even-heftier pricetag. Fox News was sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems and ultimately agreed to pay Dominion $787.5 million for the damages they had done to the election machine company. This is only the first such lawsuit, as other news corporations and also other individuals are also being sued by both Dominion and another election equipment manufacturer (Smartmatic). Billions of dollars are being sought in damages in these cases.

Just adding the Fox and Giuliani judgments together already puts the total pricetag of the Big Lie at $935.5 million. The Kari Lake judgment could easily push that north of a billion dollars. By the time all of these lawsuits are settled, this could even grow to three or four billion.

It's one thing to state in a vague and nebulous way: "The election was stolen!" This attempts to shroud the entire process in a blanket of suspicion, and it is the way Donald Trump used most often. Just make non-specific claims about this state or that, or some particular method of voting, and the person making the claims can't be sued by anyone because there are no direct damages caused to any one person or entity. Nobody has the legal standing to sue, in these instances.

But when you point the finger of supposed "blame" towards an election official or towards a company that makes voting machines, and when you get very specific about what you are accusing them of having done, then you are then on the hook for any damage to the person or business that you have caused as a result of your false allegations. When you give people a nationwide media platform to spout these defamatory statements over and over again, you are also liable for such damages (as Fox News has already found out).

Damages in these cases isn't limited to the costs of a ruined reputation or having to hire security teams because you have gotten so many death threats. There are also punitive damages awarded. These are designed to punish the wrongdoer as well as send a clear message to others not to do the same thing.

The third Big Lie defamation case is now essentially over. All three cases have been lost by those who spread the Big Lie. If the damages awarded to the Maricopa County election official top $64.5 million (which could easily happen), this will push the total cost of these vicious lies north of $1 billion. And by the time all of the cases make their way through the legal system and are tallied up, we might look back at the Kari Lake case as merely the one that pushed the total past the first billion dollars.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


One Comment on “Big Lie Pricetag Nearing $1 Billion”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    The third Big Lie defamation case is now essentially over. All three cases have been lost by those who spread the Big Lie.

    Add in the damages from the multiple personal injury cases filed by multiple police officers et alia who were damaged as a result of the "Big Lie," and it's going to be massive.

    The big liar lawyers are also losing their licenses to practice law for committing fraud and being lying liars. Sucks to be held accountable.

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