By KATE BRUMBACK
ATLANTA (AP) — Rudy Giuliani has conceded that he made public comments falsely claiming two Georgia election workers committed ballot fraud during the 2020 presidential race but is arguing that the statements were protected by the First Amendment.
That assertion by Giuliani, who as part of Donald Trump’s legal team tried to overturn results in battleground states, came in a filing Tuesday in a lawsuit by Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss. Their lawsuit from December 2021 accused the former New York City mayor of defaming them by falsely stating that they had engaged in fraud while counting ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
The lawsuit says Giuliani repeatedly pushed debunked claims that Freeman and Moss — mother and daughter — pulled out suitcases of illegal ballots and committed other acts of fraud to try to alter the outcome of the race.
Though Giuliani is not disputing that the statements were false, he does not concede that they caused any damage to Freeman or Moss. 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.
Moss told the U.S. House committee investigating the Capitol riot that her life was shattered by the false accusations. She said she received hateful and racist messages, some “wishing death upon me. Telling me that I’ll be in jail with my mother. And saying things like, ‘Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.'”
Freeman said in her testimony: “There is nowhere I feel safe.”
Giuliani’s statement was attached to a filing arguing that he did not fail to produce evidence in the case and should not be sanctioned as Freeman and Moss had requested.
“While Giuliani does not admit to Plaintiffs’ allegations, he — for purposes of this litigation only — does not contest the factual allegations,” the filing said.
Giuliani political adviser Ted Goodman said in an email Wednesday that the filing was made “in order to move on to the portion of the case that will permit a motion to dismiss.”
Michael Gottlieb, a lawyer for Freeman and Moss, said in an emailed statement that Giuliani is conceding “what we have always known to be true — Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss honorably performed their civic duties in the 2020 presidential election in full compliance with the law; and the allegations of election fraud he and former-President Trump made against them have been false since day one.”
Certain issues, including damages, still have to be decided by the court. Gottlieb said Freeman and Moss are “pleased with this major milestone in their fight for justice, and look forward to presenting what remains of this case at trial.”
Freeman and Moss filed a motion this month alleging that Giuliani had “failed to take any steps to preserve relevant electronic evidence.” They know such evidence exists because other people provided it to them, their filing says. They asked U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington to impose sanctions.
In the court filing, a lawyer for Giuliani argued that his client did not fail to preserve or destroy any electronic evidence “because all pertinent documents were seized by the government and were in their possession, custody, or control.”
The federal government had executed search warrants at Giuliani’s home and office in a separate case in New York and had seized his electronic devices.
The records that Moss and Freeman said were not produced “have not been in the possession of Giuliani since their seizure in April 2021,” according to the court filing, and therefore it is “physically impossible” for him to have destroyed the evidence.
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.
Giuliani and others alleged during a Georgia legislative subcommittee hearing in December 2020 that surveillance video from State Farm Arena showed the election workers committing election fraud. As those allegations circulated online, the two women said, they suffered intense harassment, both in person and online. Moss detailed her experiences in emotional testimony before the members of Congress investigating the Capitol insurrection. The Jan. 6 committee also played video testimony from Freeman during the hearing in June 2022.
In a court filing that month, Giuliani asked the judge to toss the lawsuit, arguing the claims against him were barred by First Amendment protections for free speech. Howell rejected that request, allowing the lawsuit to proceed.
Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who are investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election results, have both shown interest in what happened to Moss and Freeman.
Smith’s team has subpoenaed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office for any Election Day video from State Farm Arena. Willis sought testimony about a curious episode in which prosecutors say a woman traveled from Chicago to Georgia in January 2021 and tried to pressure Freeman into falsely confessing to committing election fraud.
The defamation lawsuit originally named right-wing cable news channel One America News Network, its owners and its chief White House correspondent for also pushing the debunked claims. They were dismissed from the suit in May 2022 after reaching an undisclosed settlement with Moss and Freeman.