False fraud claims a focus of Rudy Giuliani’s 2020 Missouri testimony, St. Louis defamation suit
The former New York mayor admitted he spoke falsely about election fraud in Georgia, statements that featured prominently in his testimony to a Missouri House committee and in a lawsuit against the Gateway Pundit
Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney for former President Donald Trump, testifies via Zoom to the Missouri House special committee on government oversight on Dec. 14, 2020 (screenshot via House Communications).
Weeks after former President Donald Trump lost his bid for a second term, the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election found its way to Missouri.
Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City and one of Trump’s lawyers, appeared via Zoom before a Missouri House oversight committee in December 2020 to tout disproven claims about hacked voting machines and phony mail-in ballots.
He also told lawmakers that Georgia election officials had surreptitiously counted illegal ballots in order to steal the presidency for Joe Biden, pointing to a video from Atlanta he insisted “shows demonstrably the theft of about 40,000 ballots right in front of your eyes.”
None of it was true.
Before his testimony, Giuliani’s allegations about Georgia had already been debunked by government officials, law enforcement and the media.
And last week, three years after his virtual appearance in Missouri, Giuliani conceded in a carefully worded court filing that his assertions about Georgia election workers committing fraud during the 2020 presidential race were false.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
That concession — made as part of a defamation suit against him filed in Washington, D.C., by two Georgia election workers — has rekindled interest in Giuliani’s 2020 Missouri testimony and the impact it could have in a separate defamation suit filed in St. Louis by the same election workers against the right-wing outlet Gateway Pundit.
State Rep. Peter Merideth, a St. Louis Democrat who sparred with Giuliani during his 2020 committee appearance, notes that the former mayor signed a witness form that declares “false testimony may be subject to criminal prosecution for perjury or other offenses, or contempt proceedings pursuant to Article III, Section 18, of the Missouri Constitution.”
Soon after his 2020 testimony, Merideth pointed to that form in a letter to the New York State Bar Association asking that Giuliani’s law license be revoked. A year later, Giuliani’s license to practice law was suspended after a court ruled he made “demonstrably false and misleading statements” about election fraud.
“Rudy blatantly lied to us, under oath,” Merideth said Wednesday. “That’s perjury.”
Meanwhile, the ongoing defamation suit against the Gateway Pundit in St. Louis alleges that by trumpeting Giuliani ’s ’s false tales of election fraud, the right-wing site incited months of death threats and harassment against Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, the mother and daughter accused of trying to steal the Georgia election by the former president’s supporters.
Giuliani’s admission won’t help the Gateway Pundit fend off the allegations, said Daxton Stewart, an attorney and journalism professor specializing in media law at Texas Christian University.
“Just repeating something that someone else said that was false still makes a publisher subject to defamation claims,” Stewart said.
It could make the plaintiffs’ case harder, Stewart said, if they can’t show that the Gateway Pundit published the claims knowing they were false or acted recklessly in publishing them at the time.
“But we’re talking about wild accusations by Trump loyalists that should have made anyone skeptical,” he said, “even the most fierce partisans.”
Dueling defamation claims
In a two-page declaration filed in Washington, D.C., Giuliani acknowledged he had made statements about Freeman and Moss, and that the remarks “carry meaning that is defamatory per se.”
He also admitted that his statements were “actionable” and “false,” and that he no longer disputed the “factual elements of liability” raised in the lawsuit.
However, Giuliani said he continues to believe his accusations about Freeman and Moss were “constitutionally protected” under the First Amendment and refused to concede that they caused any damage.
That distinction is important because plaintiffs in a defamation case must prove not only that a statement made about them was false but that it also resulted in actual damage.
Ted Goodman, a spokesman for Giuliani, said in an email to PBS that the filing was made “in order to move on to the portion of the case that will permit a motion to dismiss.”
The Gateway Pundit, run by brothers Jim and Joe Hoft, picked up Giuliani’s accusations, which were magnified by the former president, and published stories for months identifying Freeman and Moss as “crooked” operatives who helped steal the 2020 election.
Freeman and Moss said the accusations resulted in an avalanche of violent threats, many tinged with racial slurs. Under advice from the FBI, Freeman said she had to flee her home. On Jan. 6, 2021 — the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — she said her home was surrounded by Trump supporters shouting through bullhorns.
Moss said strangers tried to get into her grandmother’s home to make a “citizen’s arrest.”
Gateway Pundit would go on to publish numerous stories about Freeman and Moss with headlines like: “WHERE’S BILL BARR? — We Got Your Voter Fraud AG Barr — It’s On Video and They Attempted to Steal Georgia with It! — HOW ABOUT A FEW ARRESTS?”
“It’s turned my life upside down,” Moss testified last year to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In December 2021, Moss and Freeman filed a lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court against the Gateway Pundit for defamation and emotional distress.
The Hofts argue that any stories published by the Gateway Pundit regarding Freeman and Moss were “either statements of opinion based on disclosed facts or statements of rhetorical hyperbole that no reasonable reader is likely to interpret as a literal statement of fact.”
Rhetorical hyperbole, the Hofts argue, “cannot form the basis of defamation and related tort claims.”
A legal standard set in a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision states that public officials must establish actual malice — or reckless disregard of the truth — before recovering defamation damages. In this case, the Hofts say the plaintiffs are “limited purpose public figures,” and must prove actual malice to claim defamation.
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
The Hofts filed a counterclaim in the case alleging the lawsuit against them is solely intended to drive the Gateway Pundit out of business. St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer dismissed that counterclaim last month, clearing the way for a trial next year.
Giuliani’s concession was made in a separate case, Stewart noted, and the former mayor is not a party in the Gateway Pundit litigation.
“But I could see the attorneys for the Georgia election workers wanting to depose him or bring him in as a witness in the Missouri case,” he said. “They could use this other filing to keep his testimony in line with what he’s said elsewhere.”
As for his 2020 testimony in Missouri, Merideth still believes Giuliani perjured himself and “should be prosecuted.”
Republican leadership in the Missouri House could ask the local prosecutor in Cole County to file criminal charges for perjury, a class E felony with a three-year statute of limitations. Alternatively, the House could pursue holding Giuliani in contempt, which carries a small fine and could result in 10 days in jail.
But Merideth says there is “zero” chance of that ever happening in Missouri.
“Republicans love to scream about nonexistent voter impersonation,” he said, “all while trying to commit the greatest voter fraud in American history.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.