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KJZZ's Friday NewsCap: Defamation lawsuit could bankrupt Kari Lake

By Mark Brodie
Published: Friday, March 29, 2024 - 10:29am
Updated: Friday, March 29, 2024 - 3:59pm

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Mariah Temprendola/Cronkite News
U.S. Senate candidate Kari Lake, a Republican, casts her vote for former President Donald Trump in Arizona’s presidential preference election on March 19, 2024.

KJZZ’s Friday NewsCap revisits some of the biggest stories of the week from Arizona and beyond.

Barrett Marson of Marson Media and former state lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate Aaron Lieberman joined The Show this week to talk about Kari Lake’s decision to ask the court to determine the damages in a defamation lawsuit against her, a new legislative committee formed to look into executive oversight and more.

Conversation highlights

On Kari Lake moving for default judgment in the defamation case against her

MARK BRODIE: So let’s start with Kari Lake and Stephen Richer. He, of course, sued Kari Lake for defamation after she made some allegations against him with regard to the last election. This week, Barrett, she decided to ask a court to basically determine damages. A judge has said she has now forfeited the right to litigate this case. I’m curious what you make of this decision.

BARRETT MARSON: Well, I’ll tell you, the only way I see this ending is in bankruptcy for Kari Lake.

BRODIE: Really, that far?

MARSON: She will lose everything. I’ve talked to some people who think, “Oh, well, won’t the jury just award Stephen Richer a dollar? You know, he’s made his point.” I go “No.” I think you’re looking at $5 million as the floor and maybe as much as $10 million.

If I were a betting man, I would say it’s going to be in the range of $10 million that she and her affiliated entities will have to pay Stephen Richer.

BRODIE: Well, it’s interesting because in her video statement — we heard a clip from that just a moment ago — she alluded to the fact that cases like this are trying to, I think the phrase she used was “bleed her dry.”

MARSON: It will absolutely bleed her dry. But this is a problem of her own making. This is not just lawfare as she likes to say. This is a problem. You cannot accuse someone of a crime and just say, “Well, it’s my First Amendment right.”

BRODIE: Aaron, do do you think it’s $5-10 million?

AARON LIEBERMAN: I hope it works out for her just as well as it worked out for Rudy Giuliani when he said, “Hey court, just tell me tell me what I owe,” and I think it was $155 million later.

I think it was candidate Trump when he was first running for president, when he said, “Hey, are we a nation of laws or aren’t we?” And that’s what these guys are finding out. There’s a set of laws on the books. If you violate those laws, you know, cry all you want on social media, you can point out all the injustice of it. But we are a nation of laws, and the chickens are coming home to roost.

And personally, I think it’s sad. I wish we could have got to a better resolution on this. But if you break the law, you’re going to, you know, deal with the penalty.

Barrett Marson and Aaron Lieberman in the KJZZ studio
Amber Victoria Singer/KJZZ
Barrett Marson (left) and Aaron Lieberman in the KJZZ studio on Friday, March 29, 2024.

MARSON: You know, too many people see Trump and then try to emulate him. And Kari Lake has often said she’s Trump in a dress. But she doesn’t have the Trump money. And she doesn’t have the access to the airwaves that Trump has.

I mean, local news is going to do one or two stories on Kari Lake a month. And Donald Trump is mentioned quite literally every single day on every single channel. But Kari Lake, the local media doesn’t follow politics like the national media does.

So Kari Lake has got a whole set of problems, and she does not have access to the money. She doesn’t have access to, you know, the ability to raise campaign money quite like Donald Trump does. And I think her mistake was, “I can emulate Donald Trump in every way.” Well, he at least has the money to back up his libelous or slanderous words. Kari Lake does not.

LIEBERMAN: Well, I got to tell you, until a week ago with the whole Truth Social thing, it wasn’t clear that Donald Trump had the money either.

BRODIE: He raised a bunch, yeah.

LIEBERMAN: He’s walking around, crying poor mouth, saying he can’t even pay the bond that the court in New York has asked for. So it will be interesting. I suspect in the end of the day, these legal bills will be paid by suckers who are donating to Kari’s campaign. And the same thing is happening to Donald Trump. I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars paid by individuals making political donations to cover legal fees. And to me that’s sad.

BRODIE: But given that, Aaron, given the money involved, why not take it to trial? She could, in theory, win the case?

LIEBERMAN: That’s a very good question, isn’t it? And I think the answer is, who else has she taped on her phone? This is the reality of the situation. The prospect of bankruptcy is more attractive than going through discovery with a court, where someone could find out exactly who you’ve been texting and who you’ve been recording.

We already know from this previous incident with Jeff DeWit that she secretly made tape recordings. Who else does she have tape on is the question.

MARSON: One thing I disagree with is that she can use the campaign funds or she can use this to raise a substantial amount of money. Again, she’s not Donald Trump. You know, she sent out a fundraising email that day. What did she raise? Maybe $10,000 from that?

Again, Donald Trump sends out a fundraising email every few hours talking about “They’re going to take my Trump Tower. They’re going to take Trump Tower. I saved Trump Tower,” and he probably makes a substantial amount of money.

Kari Lake does not have that email list, does not have so many people that will donate based on this. So. Well, it’ll be interesting. It’s a really good point. She actually didn’t raise that much money in the gubernatorial candidate. Now, she is a little bit of a mini version of Trump because she was outspent — I don’t know, 10 to 1, 20 to 1 in the Republican primary — and still won because she did get so much more news.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day she released that first gubernatorial video. The number of people who texted her called me and were like “What is this?” — it was like a sensation. So I think you raise a very good point that she’s like a mini Trump on a smaller stage, but you’re still going to have big legal bills and you might not, you know, get above water on that.

BRODIE: So one of the other questions I guess, has to be how long does all this take? Because presumably, I would imagine Kari Lake, if you’re her, you would love this to be done maybe around the time of the primary and not dragging too far into the general election, especially if there’s going to be any kind of discovery or any kind of, you know, who else does she have recordings of?

MARSON: Well here’s Kari Lake’s problem. Again, whereas Donald Trump, maybe he could have undergone some huge pain by selling Trump Tower or something like that, right? Kari Lake doesn’t have Trump Tower to sell. So if this case ends, and it ends in a big number pre-primary, she doesn’t have a bond or money to put up to start appealing.

You think the Goldmans are going after O.J. (Simpson) for every dollar he makes? Richer will go after Kari Lake for every single dollar she earns. Every one of those speeches she gives to conservative audiences and she makes $15,000, he will go after that $15,000. And so I think there’s more of a desire to delay until after the election, because I don’t think she wants a $5 million or $10 million or any judgment, a substantial amount of money pre-November when she’s going to literally have to start using her money in court to fight off taking her house.

BRODIE: Aaron, there’s also — and we heard Stephen Richer use this phrase in a clip just a few moments ago about “reputational damage.” If you’re Stephen Richer, having a lot of money can take some of the sting away, but there’s stuff that you really can’t quantify here.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, and look, this is one of those Republican-on-Republican matches where Democrats just sit there and popcorn and say “Let’s watch this thing play out.”

I think to your previous question, Mark, there’s not going to be discovery because she said, “I did it.” You know what I mean? It’s all going to be about —

BRODIE: But she didn’t. In the video, she didn’t say “I did it.”

LIEBERMAN: This is the crazy thing. In front of the court, her pleading was basically like, “I did it.” And then she came out and said something totally different. But that’s not what the judge is looking at. The judge is saying, “OK, we’re going to the penalty phase.” And this is where it’s going to get interesting. Like what was the actual damage to Stephen Richer?

We’ll see what happens in the primary (for Maricopa County recorder). I know a lot of people, particularly in my old legislative district, that have been rallying around the recorder. A lot of the Republicans who frankly haven’t had a Republican they want to vote for in a long time, really see Richer as a hero. We’ll see if that is enough to get through a Republican primary in Maricopa County there.

The reality is, statewide, there still seems to be that MAGA base that really determines who wins the primary. And I don’t even know how you calculate the damages of maybe not getting reelected as recorder. Some people would say it’s a blessing, I’m sure, in this particular situation that we’re in.

But it’s got to be something. I mean, this is a guy who’s had to get personal security for him and his wife. And just on the emotional level, I think you can make a pretty clear and compelling case that there’s some real damages here. We’ll see what the court decides.

MARSON: And remember, there are people who are either in prison or going to prison who have been convicted or pled guilty to death threats to Stephen Richer. So that is a compelling argument right there for monetary damages.

Again, I think this is a worst case scenario for Kari Lake. You always hear about how rich people are in the U.S. Senate. And there’s lots of millionaires. You could have a bankrupt U.S. senator. By the way, Kari Lake could still win the race. I don’t want to say that Ruben Gallego has it that bad. This is nice for Rubin Gallego. But Kari Lake still could win given the national politics and national mood when it comes to Joe Biden and all that. So she still has a shot to win, actually.

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