As Tulsi Gabbard's Silly Attention Seeking Lawsuit Against Google Falters, She Files Equally Silly Lawsuit Against Hillary Clinton
from the a-slapp-asset dept
As you may recall, last year, Presidential candidate and current Congressional Rep. Tulsi Gabbard filed a laughably silly lawsuit against Google. We pointed out at the time that it had no chance at all, and echoed, quite directly, the debunked claims that some conservatives make about how Google censors them… even though Gabbard is not a conservative politician. It still threw the same kitchen sink of dumb legal arguments into the complaint, arguing that Google was a “state actor” (it’s not), and that Google’s moderation choices were a violation of California’s civil rights law, the Unruh Act.
What got much less attention was that in September, Gabbard’s lawyers filed an amended complaint that dropped all of the civil rights and Lanham Act claims and tried to press on solely with the 1st Amendment (and related 14th Amendment) claims. These will fail spectacularly. Google is not a state actor. There is no 1st Amendment claim here and any attempt to make one is a sign of pure silliness.
Of course, as that lawsuit is falling apart, it appears that Gabbard has decided to file a new vexatious lawsuit to get back in the headlines. This time she’s sued Hillary Clinton for defamation. The actual complaint is really bad. It’s laughable, and the lawyers who signed their names to it — Brian Dunne, Dan Terzian, and David Hecht, from Pierce Bainbridge — should be embarrassed. Of course, Dunne and Terzian also filed the silly case against Google, so I’m guessing they don’t much care about their own reputation as lawyers.
At issue, Hillary Clinton made some — admittedly stupid — comments about Gabbard on a podcast last fall, saying that the Russians supported Gabbard and that she might run as a 3rd party candidate.
PLOUFFE: [Trump is] going to try to drive people not to vote for him, but to say you can?t vote for them either…
CLINTON: They?re also going to do third party again. And I?m not making any predictions, but I think they?ve got their eye on somebody [Gabbard] who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She?s the favorite of the Russians, they have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far. And that?s assuming [Green Party 2016 candidate] Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not, because she?s also a Russian asset.
Again, these comments are silly, bordering on conspiracy theories in the same vein that our current President likes to buy into all too often. But it’s not even remotely defamatory. At no point does she make any false statements of fact about Gabbard. First off, the 1st Amendment and the courts’ interpretation of it gives great leeway to political speech, considering that’s kind of the whole point behind the 1st Amendment. As such, the courts will almost certainly take this as standard overheated political rhetoric.
Second, breaking down what Clinton said, it makes no factual claims about Gabbard herself — but rather about “the Russians.” She may be wrong about what the Russians are doing, but that’s not defamatory towards Gabbard. Whether or not the Russians do favor Gabbard, or whether or not the Russians would like her to run as a 3rd party candidate, or whether or not they have a bunch of sites and bots promoting her — that’s all about the Russians. Even the “Russian asset” comment (which Clinton never directly states about Gabbard, but implies by saying it is “also” true of 2016 third party candidate Jill Stein), is not defamatory. A Russian asset doesn’t mean someone who is purposefully doing the bidding of the Russian government. That would be a Russian agent. Simply saying someone is an asset to the Russians, means that they’re valuable in some way to the Russians, and not that the Russians’ control them. And, as such, it’s clearly a statement of opinion.
Clinton can argue that the Russians benefit from a Gabbard campaign — and other people (including Gabbard, if she chose) could argue the other side. And that is the nature of political debate. But it is not defamatory to state your opinion, no matter how silly it might be.
But, of course, it appears that Gabbard and her lawyers at Pierce Bainbridge are not actually interested in righting any legal wrongs with these lawsuits. They just are ways to rile up a base and get her name back in the headlines. Even David Frum at the Atlantic has noted that these are lawsuits for attention from a Presidential candidate who is not going to win anything.
But then, much of Gabbard?s complaint reads less like a legal argument than a stump speech. It is not easy to imagine that any federal judge would look with much favor on the relentless boasting and self-promotion in a lawsuit that opens:
1. Tulsi Gabbard has lived her life with one guiding principle: putting the needs of others before her own. That?s why she joined the Army National Guard. That is why she campaigned for and was elected to the United States House of Representatives. And that is why she is running for President.
The 14-page brief crams in 13 references to Gabbard?s service in the Army National Guard.
Rather than being structured to convince a judge, the brief wishes to invite belief in an alternative universe where Hillary Clinton is running for president in 2020?and where Gabbard somehow presents an important obstacle to Clinton?s ambitions.
This is not unlike the lawsuit against Google, which excited a clueless base who insisted to us that Gabbard must have a strong case and Google would be taken down by it. Yet, of course, Gabbard’s own amended complaint, in which she dropped all of the claims that people kept telling me were easy wins for her, made no news at all.
This seems to be an all too common path taken by some politicians these days. Rile up your base by filing frivolous lawsuits. This is why we actually need stronger anti-SLAPP laws in every state, plus a federal anti-SLAPP law. It is, of course, notable, that Gabbard’s suit against Clinton was filed in the Southern District of New York, and NY’s anti-SLAPP law is incredibly weak and is unlikely to apply in this instance (it only applies to statements made while petitioning the government).