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Jury selection begins in election workers’ defamation damages trial against Rudy Giuliani

The former New York City mayor has already been found liable in the defamation lawsuit. The only issue to be determined at the trial is the amount of damages, if any, Giuliani must pay

Rudy Giuliani arrives for his defamation case in DC
Rudy Giuliani (L) arrives to the US District Court for jury selection in his defamation case brought by two Fulton County election workers in Washington, DC, USA, December 11 2023.JIM LO SCALZO (EFE)

Jury selection got underway on Monday in the federal case that will determine how how much Rudy Giuliani might have to pay two Georgia election workers he falsely accused of fraud while pushing Donald Trump’s baseless claims after the 2020 election.

The former New York City mayor has already been found liable in the defamation lawsuit brought by Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea Shaye Moss, who endured threats and harassment after they became the target of a conspiracy theory spread by Trump and his allies. The only issue to be determined at the trial is the amount of damages, if any, Giuliani must pay.

Giuliani did not speak to reporters as he entered Washington’s federal courthouse — the same building where Trump is set to stand trial in March on criminal charges accusing the former president of scheming to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden.

Giuliani is expected to take the witness stand, his lawyer said Monday, raising questions about whether his testimony could also put him in jeopardy in a separate criminal case in Georgia that accuses Trump, Giuliani and others of trying to illegally overturn the results of the election in the state.

The legal and financial woes are mounting for Giuliani, who was celebrated as “America’s mayor” in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack and became one of the most ardent promoters of Trump’s election lies.

In the Georgia civil lawsuit, Giuliani is accused of making false statements to lawmakers during hearings in December 2020. While showing a surveillance video from State Farm Arena in Atlanta, where ballots were counted in the days after the election, Giuliani said election workers committed election fraud. Specifically, he said, Freeman and Moss were “quite obviously surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they’re vials of heroin or cocaine” and it was obvious they were “engaged in surreptitious illegal activity.”

The claims about the election workers were quickly debunked by Georgia officials, who found no improper counting of ballots.

Giuliani has pleaded not guilty in the criminal case and maintains he had every right to raise questions about what he believed to be election fraud.

He was also sued in September by a former lawyer who alleged Giuliani only paid a fraction of roughly $1.6 million in legal fees stemming from investigations into his efforts to keep Trump in the White House. And the judge overseeing the election workers’ lawsuit has already ordered Giuliani and his business entities to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

Overseeing the defamation case is District Judge Beryl Howell, who is well-versed in handling matters related to Trump, having served as chief judge of Washington’s federal court for the entirety of Trump’s presidency.

In that role, the appointee of former President Barack Obama made several significant rulings, including determining in 2020 that the House of Representatives was entitled to secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and, more recently, issuing a sealed opinion requiring a lawyer for Trump to testify before the grand jury over his objections in an investigation into the mishandling of classified documents.

Among the questions Howell asked jurors was: “Have you ever used the phrase ‘Lets Go Brandon?’” The phrase is used in right-wing circles to insult Biden.

Moss had worked for the Fulton County elections department since 2012 and supervised the absentee ballot operation during the 2020 election. Freeman was a temporary election worker, verifying signatures on absentee ballots and preparing them to be counted and processed.

The women have said the false claims led to an barrage of violent threats and harassment that at one point led Freeman to leave her home for more than two months. In emotional testimony before the U.S. House Committee that investigated the U.S. Capitol attack, Moss recounted receiving an onslaught of threatening and racist messages.

In an August decision holding Giuliani liable in the case, Howell said the Trump adviser gave “only lip service” to complying with his legal obligations and had failed to turn over information requested by the mother and daughter. The judge in October said that Giuliani had flagrantly disregarded an order to provide documents concerning his personal and business assets. She said that jurors deciding the amount of damages would be told they must infer that Giuliani was intentionally trying to hide financial documents in the hopes of “artificially deflating his net worth.”

Giuliani conceded in July that he made public comments falsely claiming Freeman and Moss committed fraud while counting ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. But Giuliani argued that the statements were protected by the First Amendment.

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