Rudy Giuliani is under legal siege, and apparently doesn’t have the money even to pay his lawyers in the cases currently pending against him. And yet, for some reason, Giuliani nonetheless decided to file a new defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit in New Hampshire against President Joe Biden and several Biden fundraising committees.
Can Giuliani possibly win this lawsuit?
Giuliani’s lawsuit says that during the 2020 presidential debate held in Nashville, Tennessee (and broadcast nationally), Biden accused Giuliani of (1) being a “Russian pawn” and (2) having lied about the Hunter Biden laptop. On this second point, I don’t quite understand how Biden supposedly defamed Giuliani, but you can decide for yourself.
The lawsuit says Biden’s defamatory statement came during comments “with regard to his now famously disproven manufactured claim that the abandoned laptop of Defendant Biden’s son contained Russian disinformation.” The suit quotes Biden as saying during the debate, “…hey look, there are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what this (sic) he is accusing me of is a Russian plant… four five (sic) former heads of the CIA both parties (sic) say what he is saying is a bunch of garbage. Nobody believes it except the his (sic) and his good friend, Rudy Giuliani.”
Biden may soon realize that, when accused of defamation, incoherence can be a potent defense. In any event, where will this lawsuit go, and how should Biden defend it?
Giuliani and Biden will almost surely wrangle about procedural stuff before they get to the merits of the lawsuit. They’ll fight about jurisdiction, and venue, and whether the case belongs in state or federal court.
But let’s forget about those arguments and get to the good stuff: Who will win on the merits of the lawsuit? Did Biden defame Giuliani or did he not?
A court will analyze each supposedly defamatory statement separately. First, was Giuliani actually a “Russian pawn”? As others have noted, there is some evidence that Giuliani was in fact being manipulated by the Russians during the 2020 election.
Just a week before the presidential debate, The Washington Post had reported that U.S. intelligence agencies warned Trump in 2019 that “Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence.” Moreover, when Giuliani traveled to the Ukraine, he met with Andriy Derkach, who the Treasury Department later sanctioned for having been “an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services.” I suspect that Biden will find enough evidence to convince a jury that Giuliani was arguably a “Russian pawn,” and truth is a defense to defamation claims.
Biden’s statement about the Hunter Biden laptop is word soup, so it’s hard to say there was anything defamatory tucked in there. Even if a court decided that Biden’s words meant something, Biden might have simply inadvertently misstated a fact. First Amendment protections of free speech are at their greatest during presidential debates, so Biden is hardly defenseless.
But parties to a lawsuit don’t think only about liability, they also think about the money they’d recover if they won in court. What damages did Biden’s alleged defamation cause Giuliani?
Giuliani was once a proud figure in American politics, but his reputation has plummeted in recent years. He’s been suspended from practicing law in New York, although no final order of disbarment has been entered. A committee in Washington, D.C., has recommended that Giuliani be disbarred in D.C., although the final decision will be made by the D.C. Court of Appeals.
And that’s just the start.
Giuliani has been sanctioned and found liable for defaming two election workers in Georgia. (We’ll learn the amount of damages that Giuliani owes those election workers shortly.) A former associate has accused Giuliani of sexual harassment and assault. (She apparently has audio tapes.)
Both Dominion and Smartmatic have claims pending against Giuliani for his alleged lies about the 2020 election. Hunter Biden has sued Giuliani for invading his privacy. Giuliani’s lawyers have sued him for unpaid legal bills. Even Giuliani’s condo in Florida is now subject to a tax lien.
In light of all that, just how badly could Biden have injured Giuliani even if Biden’s two statements in the presidential debate were inaccurate and defamatory?
If I were defending the New Hampshire case on behalf of Biden, I’d take a page from the Trump playbook: Stall the New Hampshire case for as long as possible.
First, stalling is likely to reduce the amount of damages that anyone would think Biden owes Giuliani for defamation. Within a couple of years, Giuliani may either be forced into bankruptcy or prison (or both) by the cases pending against him. How much money would any jury award a person who had been bankrupted or imprisoned by misconduct independent of what Biden said during the presidential debate?
Second, if the New Hampshire case is stalled, the lawyers representing Giuliani may realize that they’re on a fool’s errand. Giuliani is apparently not paying his current lawyers. I’d guess he isn’t paying the lawyers in the New Hampshire case, either; they’re probably handling the case on a contingency fee. Over time, as civil liability or a criminal conviction likely rain down on Giuliani, and the costs of pursuing the New Hampshire defamation case rack up, the lawyers may choose not to pursue the case any further.
Here’s my prediction: Biden’s lawyers will stall the New Hampshire case for a couple of years, and Giuliani will later decide to dismiss that case, both because the case has little value and because Giuliani has more important things to worry about. The final score will be: Biden 1, Giuliani 0.