Trial to begin in Giuliani defamation suit

Rudy Giuliani, former attorney to Donald Trump and ex-mayor of New York, could be on the hook for up to $43.5 million in damages when a defamation lawsuit filed against him by two Georgia election workers goes to trial today in Washington, D.C.

The showdown between the financially strapped Giuliani and the two temporary poll workers he baselessly accused of ballot tampering in 2020 will highlight a major court battle over claims of a stolen election that became central to the former president's efforts to stay in power and is now at the heart of two criminal cases against him.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell has already found Giuliani liable for more than a dozen defamatory statements against Ruby Freeman and Wandrea ArShaye "Shaye" Moss, who are mother and daughter, leaving a jury of eight only to decide how much he should pay in damages for violent threats and harassment the pair received. Howell previously ordered Giuliani to pay the women $230,000 in legal fees and sanctions for failing to turn over relevant information. She said those failures, combined with Giuliani's own admissions, compelled her to rule without a trial that he defamed both women, intentionally inflicted emotional distress on them as part of a civil conspiracy and owes punitive damages.

At a recent pretrial hearing where Giuliani failed to show, Howell lashed defense attorney Joseph Sibley IV for the lapse. She warned that she would not allow the defense to veer into "weirdness-land" by mounting claims she already rejected after Giuliani stonewalled the plaintiffs and agreed not to contest that he made false and defamatory claims about them.

Howell has suggested that Giuliani was trying to avoid disclosing information that could hurt him in other civil and criminal cases, and legal experts said the bill may be coming due for the former Manhattan U.S. attorney and host of the "America's Mayor Live" YouTube show.

"I don't want to overcomplicate this. Words have consequences, including for Mr. Giuliani," said legal analyst Chuck Rosenberg, a former top FBI and Justice Department official. "We are all responsible for what we say and do. Mr. Giuliani doesn't get a pass."

The prospect of a humbling or debilitating financial judgment is only the latest legal risk for Giuliani. He faces state prosecution in Georgia, in part for his dissemination of the false claims about Freeman and Moss. He's also considered an unindicted co-conspirator in Trump's indictment on federal charges for obstruction of the 2020 election. He and one of his lawyers are being sued by Hunter Biden for allegedly mishandling the presidential son's laptop, and that lawyer is accusing Giuliani of not paying legal bills. Giuliani also faces a suit from a former employee accusing him of wage theft and sexual harassment.

Giuliani has pleaded innocent in the Georgia criminal cases and denied all claims of wrongdoing in all cases.

In a statement, Giuliani adviser Ted Goodman said, "The Rudy Giuliani you see today is the same man who took down the Mafia, cleaned up New York City and comforted the nation following September 11th."

Goodman added, "In the fullness of time, this will be looked at as a dark chapter in our nation's history, as those in power attempt to destroy their partisan political opposition in ways that cause great, irreparable harm to the U.S. justice system. ... While it may be President Trump, Mayor Giuliani and others you disagree with politically today, it could be you and the people who share your beliefs tomorrow."

Today, Giuliani will sit at the defense table and share a courtroom feet away from Freeman and Moss, who say they received death threats and were forced into hiding after Giuliani repeatedly claimed in the weeks after the 2020 election that misleading security video footage showed them bringing in "suitcases" full of fake votes for Joe Biden. Those claims were quickly debunked by election officials in Georgia.