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Kari Lake won’t fight defamation lawsuit brought by election official

Kari Lake, the US Senate candidate in Arizona who lost her 2022 bid for governor thanks in part to her refusal to untie herself from far-right conspiracy theories, seems unwilling to defend those same conspiracies under oath.

The former TV news anchor and current Trump superfan is running for the Senate seat being vacated in January by Kyrsten Sinema, the once-Democrat-now-independent first-term senator who announced that she would not stand for re-election after learning that she was in a distant third place in the polls. Ms Lake is set to run against Ruben Gallego, a congressman from Phoenix, who is leading her in polling.

While she previously indicated in an interview with Trump confidant Steve Bannon that she would fight a civil suit brought against her for alleged defamation of an Arizona elections official, Stephen Richer, Ms Lake’s team this week filed a motion to move directly to the phase of her trial where damages will be assessed. Ms Lake had repeatedly targeted the Maricopa County Recorder, Mr Richer, and accused him of “sabotaging” elections in the county in 2022 and deliberately misprinting ballots — both accusations were lies, and even in her defiant statement posted to Twitter, Ms Lake is no longer defending them.

“I didn’t surrender, I simply cut-to-the-chase. We filed papers demanding a hearing in 30 days for Stephen to prove how my words harmed him. I am ready to go to court now, Stephen. Are you? Arizona law still requires you to prove with witnesses and with evidence, that I caused you—in your own words—“substantial injuries,” Stephen, can you?”

Nowhere in her lengthy post demanding to know how badly she will potentially be getting hosed in the upcoming portion of her civil trial did Ms Lake defend the idea that the 2022 election was rigged in favour of incumbent Governor Katie Hobbs; nor has she repeated the specific accusations against Mr Richer. But she did accuse her opponents, and Donald Trump’s, of seeking their collective political destruction.

“President Trump and I are targets of a weaponized legal/court system called Lawfare. Our political opponents will stop at nothing to destroy us.”

Mr Richer, meanwhile, responded in his own statement to Twitter: “It was a lie. It was always a lie. She did it to get your $25. Or to fire you up. But it was all a lie. There were no ’300,000 fraudulent early ballots’ etc. She defamed me. But she also lied to you.”

The former candidate for governor is clearly taking a different path in 2024 even as she continues to project an image on social media of a Trump loyalist. Still a stranger to elected office, Ms Lake is making an active effort to build ties with a Republican establishment she ignored and rejected in 2022 in favour of tying herself entirely to the former president: she has reportedly tried to expand her circle of allies in the state’s GOP circles, including outreach to a former primary opponent and others in the state tied to the Republican legacy built by former Senator John McCain. Those efforts won her the endorsement of the Senate GOP’s campaign ahead of the primary in July, in which she remains the clear frontrunner.

But questions about her past-and-present embrace of election denialism continue to haunt her as she struggles to form those alliances. As last week’s GOP primary for US Senate in Ohio proved, Republican voters see little issue with nominating an untested political novice in nationally-signficant races. Donald Trump’s endorsement remains by far the most significant factor for Republicans in many states. But whether those same candidates can win statewide elections against competitive opponents remains unclear: the failure of many of those candidates, including Ms Lake, in 2022 puts that sharply into doubt.

One very public example of Ms Lake’s awkward peacemaking efforts played out on Twitter in recent weeks when she attempted to bury the hatchet with Meghan McCain, daughter of the late senator. Ms McCain’s acidic response decisively rejected any notion of mending fences.