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Rudy Giuliani is ordered to pay $148 million to former Georgia election workers

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Rudy Giuliani has been ordered to pay $148 million in damages to two former election workers in Georgia he lied about after the 2020 election. The decision and that staggering sum come at the end of a weeklong civil trial in which the workers tearfully recounted how the viral conspiracy theories ruined their lives. NPR's Miles Parks was at the federal courthouse in D.C. all week, and he's on the line with us now. Hi, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us who these two women are who Giuliani is now on the hook to pay close to $150 million.

PARKS: So their names are Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. Freeman is Moss' mother. And these women have really become symbols of how the 2020 election conspiracies have actually affected real people. Some people might remember they also testified as part of the January 6 Committee investigation last year. Both women helped to administer the election in Georgia, in Georgia's Fulton County. And at - in the time when votes were being counted or after the time votes were being counted, Rudy Giuliani posted, when he was working as Trump's campaign attorney - posted video of the absentee ballot counting center that they were working in and said that the video showed evidence that the women were committing election crimes. There was - that was proven false even at the time, and as part of these proceedings, Giuliani admitted that was false. Multiple investigations have also showed that that was false, but as we heard in this trial, those lies went viral and really did ruin these women's lives.

SHAPIRO: Giuliani was found liable for defamation by the judge in this case, so this trial was just to determine the damages that were owed. How did the attorneys for these women make the case that these lies were worth this amount of money?

PARKS: So they really made two arguments. One was practical, and one was emotional. On the practical side, they had an expert witness, a marketing professor at Northwestern, who came in and showed the jury how these lies reached tens of millions of people. She estimated that a strategic communications plan to, essentially, combat the lies would cost as much as $47 million. But then, on the emotional side, both women who were affected testified tearfully, and we heard throughout the week the racist voicemails that they received. The jurors saw more death threats via email and messages than I could count. And at the end, after this staggering number was revealed, Shaye Moss came outside on the courtroom steps and said, essentially, she hopes that this number is big enough, that this, you know, never happens to another civil worker ever again.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the argument that Giuliani's defense team made - unsuccessfully, as it turns out.

PARKS: Well, so his defense attorney, Joseph Sibley, essentially said lots of people were spreading election lies in the time after the 2020 election, and Giuliani shouldn't be responsible for all of them. But the judge herself said that Sibley had a really hard job because Giuliani has not stopped lying about these women. Even this week, as this trial had already begun on Monday, after a day of trial, Giuliani came out on the courthouse steps and said, everything I said about those women was true, essentially showing that he still believes those lies and is continuing to spread them. You have to assume that that had played some role in the jury's decision to award this large damaging sum. I will say that after the verdict, Giuliani said - called the number absurd and indicated that he was going to appeal it.

SHAPIRO: And bigger picture, what does this outcome mean about the question of whether people will be held accountable for efforts to overturn the 2020 election? What does this result mean in that context?

PARKS: I talked to one voting expert who was optimistic that a large number here would deter candidates and campaigns from lying about election workers going forward. But it's also important to note that, you know, Donald Trump, for instance, has been indicted for his role in trying to overturn the election, and he has continued up until this day to keep spreading lies about the 2020 election results. So it's probably far-fetched to assume this is all just going to be over.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Miles Parks. Thank you.

PARKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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