Kari Lake declines to defend her statements in a defamation case

Kari Lake, a Republican Senate candidate from Arizona who has advanced election conspiracy theories, is asking a judge to decide whether she must pay damages to a top county election official who sued her for defamation – after opting not to defend her statements in the case.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer last year sued Lake – who ran unsuccessfully for Arizona governor in 2022 – arguing that her repeated false claims of election malfeasance made him and his family the targets of relentless threats.

Richer and Lake are both Republicans, and his lawsuit marked an aggressive step by Richer to confront Lake’s election claims – which have been rejected by the courts.

Lawyers defending Lake, her gubernatorial campaign and an aligned nonprofit group on Tuesday asked a judge to schedule a hearing to determine what, if any, damages are owed to Richer.

In a statement, Richer said Lake and her allies had capitulated.

“After months of doubling down and defending their lies across Arizona, in the media, and on social media, when push came to shove, the Defendants decided to completely back down and concede that their lies were just that: lies,” he said.

“Because of their actions, my family and I have faced an endless barrage of threats — including calls for our execution — I have lost close personal relationships, and I have had my reputation irreparably damaged,” he added. “I have said from the beginning that no one is above the rule of law and today further validates that belief.”

A Lake spokesperson said in a statement that “Kari didn’t surrender” in the case, “she simply cut-to-the-chase, demanding a hearing in 30 days, and proof of how her words (under the First Amendment) caused damages to Richer.”

Lake’s decision not to further engage in the lawsuit comes as the former local TV anchor looks to court more moderate voters in what is expected to be a highly competitive and critical contest to succeed retiring Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in November. Sinema, who was elected as a Democrat in 2018, registered as an independent in 2022 but continues to caucus with her former party in the Senate.

Advisers to Lake have encouraged her to step back from her inflammatory rhetoric on the 2020 election, as many believe it turned voters off and ultimately cost her the 2022 gubernatorial race.

Her Senate campaign received a boost earlier this year when, after months of behind the scenes lobbying, the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm endorsed her. The move signaled to establishment Republicans that she would be taken seriously as a candidate and that they would be putting resources into her campaign.

Lake, however, has not completely backed down on her election fraud claims. According to The New York Times, at a rally in Arizona earlier this month, Lake said she planned to continue her challenges to her 2022 election loss and repeated former President Donald Trump’s claims that Democrats want to use undocumented immigrants to help them at the polls.

In a video posted to X on Tuesday, Lake insisted that “by participating in this lawsuit, it would only serve to legitimize this perversion of our legal system.”

Echoing Trump, Lake called the lawsuit against her “frivolous” and a “political witch hunt,” and equated the defamation suit with the former president’s legal troubles. She accused the Washington political establishment of knowing “that they can’t beat either of us fair and square, so they hit us with lawsuits to keep us tied up and off the campaign trail.”

“So I won’t be taking part” in the lawsuit, Lake said, adding that she will instead be focused on her Senate race.

Last month, the state Supreme Court declined Lake’s effort to keep the case on hold – putting it on track to move toward discovery and trial.

In Tuesday’s filing requesting a default judgment hearing, Lake’s legal team said it would be a “misnomer” to characterize the move as admitting to allegations in a lawsuit.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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