DENVER (AP) — President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, top campaign attorneys and conservative media outlets recklessly spread an uncorroborated report that a former security director for Dominion Voting Systems tried to fix the 2020 election for Joe Biden, the ex-employee’s attorneys argued Thursday.
Eric Coomer’s lawyers asked a Denver judge to reject a motion to dismiss Coomer’s defamation lawsuit against the defendants, saying their actions not only drove Coomer into hiding and cost him his job but constituted actual malice as the Trump campaign and conservative activists challenged the election’s integrity.
The defendants argue they didn’t act with malice, that the report was public knowledge, and that Coomer was a public figure — all conditions that should preclude Coomer from prevailing in his defamation lawsuit. The defendants also argue that Coomer scrubbed virulent anti-Trump posts from his private social media accounts as evidence of intent.
Central to the case is an unverified report by a Colorado podcaster, Joseph Oltmann, that Coomer, then director of security and strategy for Colorado-based Dominion, told activists of the antifa movement in a pre-election telephone call that the vote could be fixed for Biden.
Coomer has insisted he has no connections to antifa activists and was never on any call.
Oltmann repeated his claim in interviews with several of the media defendants. The report also was referred to during a post-election news conference by Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani. Trump tweeted a link to an Online News Network report on the claims.
Coomer's attorney, Charles Cain, played a series of short video clips allegedly showing Colorado activist Michelle Malkin, Giuliani and others acknowledging they didn’t fact-check or challenge Oltmann’s account either in interviews with Oltmann or before publicly citing the allegations.
“You can’t just purposely avoid the truth, put your blinders on and somehow isolate yourself” in publicizing Oltmann’s account, Cain said of what he called “a pre-conceived story line.”
Defendants’ attorneys equated their clients’ actions with someone retweeting or re-publicizing subject matter already in the public domain and, because it pertained to the issue of election integrity, those actions were protected by the First Amendment. They insisted their clients had no reason to doubt Oltmann's account.
Coomer dropped Newsmax from the lawsuit after Newsmax apologized for airing the false allegations.
Coomer’s attorneys noted that during a deposition, Oltmann refused to divulge details on how he came to surreptitiously participate in the alleged call with antifa activists or learned of Coomer’s scrubbed Facebook posts.
Attorney Steve Skarnulis played a video excerpt of Giuliani describing Coomer as “a vicious, vicious man” during a post-election news conference on vote fraud.
Giuliani said in a deposition this year that he was working around the clock at the time, pursuing numerous allegations of vote fraud, and wasn’t able to order a preliminary investigation of the Oltmann-Coomer affair.
Giuliani’s attorney, Joseph Sibley, argued that it was plausible that someone in Coomer’s position could influence election integrity and that Giuliani was relying on reputable news outlets in his news conference statements. He insisted that public comment on a public matter is protected speech.
Despite repeated claims and lawsuits, there has been no evidence that the 2020 election was rigged or of widespread fraud.
Judge Marie Avery Moses was to eventually rule on the motion to dismiss.