Watching Rudy Giuliani Self-Destruct at a Defamation Trial in Washington

By admin Dec16,2023

When Rudy Giuliani finally arrived at Elijah Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, in Washington, D.C., on Monday—stiff-legged, about ten minutes late, unapologetic—his attorney, a former U.S. Army Ranger named Joseph Sibley, tucked him into the large and lonely defense table where the two of them sat, alone, with their giant bottles of water. Sibley had drained much of his while waiting. The former mayor of New York began pulling items out of an overstuffed black backpack that looked like something a sixth grader might bring to school. He’d arrived for the most recent phase in a defamation suit brought by two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, whose backs remained turned to him throughout the day.

Beginning on December 3, 2020, during a hearing before the Georgia State Senate, and continuing to the present day, Giuliani has claimed that Freeman and Moss—to quote just a few passages of the fable—participated in a “heist” of the 2020 Presidential election, “passing around USB ports as if they were vials of heroin or cocaine,” which they used “to infiltrate the crooked Dominion voting machines.” As evidence, he shared edited surveillance footage from State Farm Arena, in Atlanta, where the two women counted Fulton County votes, purportedly showing them holding the devices. He called the two women “serial criminals” who’d stolen the election from Donald Trump using “suitcases” of ballots, a claim he repeated on podcasts and TV episodes, and on the Web site formerly known as Twitter. Later, Trump mentioned Freeman more than a dozen times in an infamous phone call with the Georgia secretary of state. Soon, millions of Americans were parroting the narrative, and not only from the remove of the Internet. A few showed up at Freeman’s home, threatening to make citizen’s arrests. She went into hiding.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, who is presiding over the case, has already ruled that Giuliani defamed Freeman and Moss. The question that remained was how much he owed them. On Monday, mother and daughter arrived thirty-nine minutes before Giuliani. Their legal team filled a table and overflowed onto a courtroom bench. One of the attorneys, Von DuBose, delivered an opening statement. “What happens,” he asked, “when someone else disgraces your name?” He played excerpts from threatening voice mails that Freeman and Moss received after Giuliani began lying about them, and, on a screen, he projected texts that they received. (Among the most chilling was a sentence sent one word at a time: “We. Know. Where. You. Sleep.”) He also held up a ginger mint: Giuliani’s alleged USB port in the State Farm Arena video. DuBose’s co-counsel Mike Gottlieb spoke about money. Freeman and Moss are seeking damages in the “tens of millions,” he said. He advised the jury to “consider a verdict that will send a message.”

The opening statement from the defense was shorter. Sibley called Freeman and Moss “good people” and acknowledged that they had been harmed. But by whom? he asked. “What harm can we say he caused the plaintiffs?” Tens of millions in damages, he said, would be “the civil equivalent of the death penalty” and, effectively, “the end of Mr. Giuliani.”

In court, I sat near a white man, about the same age as Giuliani, who seemed to be the defendant’s chief supporter in the room who wasn’t being paid (assuming Sibley gets paid; Giuliani has been sued for allegedly stiffing his counsel, though Giuliani called the fees excessive). The man appeared to shake his head furiously every time the judge reminded the court that Giuliani had already been found at fault. In the hallway, during a break in the proceedings, I introduced myself. The man, who said that his name was Fletcher Thompson, had just finished offering Giuliani, outside the bathroom, some unsolicited advice about ballots and body-camera footage, saying, “I’m sorry you’re in this situation.” (Giuliani nodded.) Thompson, a lawyer who lives in the D.C. area, told me that he was “just some guy who saw the videos.” He added, “I can see what happened. I make my own inferences. I think there was a plan to do this.”

Later, the court heard from a security and threat-management consultant whose company had compiled millions of direct and indirect online references to Freeman and Moss, and we heard more of the comments that were made about them. (“Those two shouldn’t have even been breathing after what they did,” one post read.) After the day’s proceedings were over, Giuliani stepped outside the courthouse and gave a short interview on the sidewalk as he waited for a driver. He had no regrets about his actions, he said. “I told the truth. They were engaged in changing votes.” Soon, he would explain how, he added: “Stay tuned.”

“Mr. Sibley has a hard job,” Howell said the next day, stating the obvious. Giuliani had acknowledged doubling down on his defamatory remarks the night before—“Yes, of course I did,” he said, matter-of-factly—which, the judge noted, could support another defamation claim against him. Sibley didn’t look pleased during a midmorning recess, when Giuliani could be heard telling him “they’re lying,” in apparent reference to the morning’s witnesses for the prosecution. Sibley walked away, and Giuliani was approached by Ted Goodman, his spokesperson. “This is fucking malpractice,” Giuliani said to Goodman. “He’s not objecting!”

There wasn’t much for Sibley to object to, beyond Giuliani’s general self-destruction. Two deposed witnesses, who’d investigated the claims that Freeman and Moss had engaged in illegal or otherwise inappropriate activity, made clear that none had occurred. There was no evidence of hidden suitcases of ballots or ballots counted multiple times, they said. No illegal votes.

There was only the subsequent rupture in reality wrought by these spurious claims, which Moss spent much of Tuesday describing. The thirty-nine-year-old outlined how her once “lit” life, full of selfie-taking and trips to the nail salon, never returned to normal after Giuliani began defaming her and her family. There was a “Black Mirror” quality to the experience she described, in a calm voice, occasionally dabbing tears: the Internet had helped Giuliani and others spread lies that made her unrecognizable even to herself. “Everything just flipped upside down,” she said. The election-registration office was the only place she’d worked since graduating college. She’d become the interim supervisor involved with absentee ballots, which she compared to “winning the golden ticket with Willy Wonka.” She thought she might be on the verge of a promotion. Then her bosses told her that “hateful, racist, violent, nasty” messages were pouring in, claiming that she’d broken the law.

Moss changed her hair style and color. She became hypervigilant and housebound, stress-eating, gaining seventy pounds, crying often, driving away the few friends who stuck by her. She stopped walking her dog. So many people showed up at her grandmother’s house that her grandmother stopped opening her door. Her son, who’d received the first wave of hate on her old phone, failed his classes. “I felt like the worst mom ever to allow him to have to hear this, have to experience this day after day,” she said. “Now . . . he don’t even want social media.” But Moss couldn’t look away. “It was this pattern,” she said. “Eat, sleep, cry, look online, eat to make you feel better, go to sleep because you ate too much, wake up, look again, cry.” She was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and acute anxiety disorder. She had recurring nightmares in which she’d go to work, and there’d be “a crowd at my door, with nooses . . . and signs and sticks with fire on the end.” She said that her deepest fear was “my son finding me and/or my mom hanging in front of our house on a tree.”

One of her attorneys, John Langford, from the nonprofit group Protect Democracy, asked Moss whether Giuliani had ever apologized. She shook her head, adding, “He was just spreading lies about us last night.” She’d found out about what Giuliani had said outside the courthouse after she’d made it back, in the company of bodyguards, to her hotel. “There was a huge TV . . . and I tried not to look,” she said. Back in her room, her curiosity got the best of her. She still can’t look away.

By admin

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