And the reason why was unexpected: DeSantis aligning himself with a Dominion voting machines lawyer.
On Tuesday morning, DeSantis convened a roundtable in Miami focusing on what his office called “the damaging impacts of defamation from the legacy media.” Seated among the conservative panelists was Elizabeth “Libby” Locke, an attorney who has taken up litigation on behalf of clients like Sarah Palin and the James O’Keefe group Project Veritas against The New York Times.
DeSantis said Locke was “an extraordinaire when it comes to First Amendment defamation.” What he didn’t say is that Locke is now representing Dominion Voting Systems, which is currently suing key Trumpworld figures—like Rudy Giuliani and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell—for pushing bogus claims that the company’s technology somehow stole the 2020 election from Trump.
In a GOP where Trump’s election fraud lies and 2020 obsession still hold sway, DeSantis’ promotion of the lawyer for one of the ex-president’s top public enemies sent Trumpworld into a frenzy.
“It is disgusting!” Lindell exclaimed during a phone interview with The Daily Beast. “She is a liar. She is part of the lie,” Lindell said of Locke, before clarifying that “the Big Lie is the Big Lie.”
As Trump and DeSantis shadowbox ahead of a likely battle in the 2024 presidential primary, Lindell cast the governor’s association with Locke as a fatal political weakness.
“DeSantis being in cahoots with a Dominion lawyer has outraged the people of the United States,” he continued. “DeSantis lost any chance of running,” Lindell added before calling the Florida governor to “endorse Donald Trump right now.”
Others, such as ardently pro-Trump lawyer Joseph D. McBride—who represents Jan. 6 riot defendants—told The Daily Beast in a phone interview that DeSantis “destroyed” himself by welcoming a Dominion lawyer.
“How in the hell is he going to beat Trump in a primary when he just gave Dominion a seat at the table? I just don’t see it happening,” he continued.
Asked if he viewed DeSantis giving Locke a seat at the table as a deliberate shot at Trump, McBride said it most certainly was.
“Yeah, I think it’s a thumb in the eye,” McBride said. “I think it’s his way of saying all that election stuff was nonsense, and ‘This is my way of passive-aggressively saying that I think that the election was without any hiccups,’” he added of DeSantis.
While Trump’s most loyal supporters remain outraged about the 2020 election—and Trump himself continues to talk about it on a near-daily basis—it is clearly no longer an urgent topic to many GOP voters. In the 2022 election, several Trump-backed challengers to Republicans who countered Trump’s election lies lost in spectacular fashion. And many election deniers who did win their primaries flamed out in the November election.
DeSantis, meanwhile, has positioned himself as a right-wing alternative for Republican voters who want to move on from Trump and the incessant 2020 talk. Despite Trumpworld’s suspicions, it’s unclear if the governor meant to deliberately troll the former president. Neither a Trump spokesperson nor a DeSantis spokesperson returned The Daily Beast’s request for comment. Locke couldn’t be successfully reached for comment via phone or email.
Still, that didn’t stop more Trumpworld figures from sounding off on the DeSantis panel on Tuesday.
“DeSantis isn’t just trolling Trump,” Jan. 6 organizer Ali Alexander wrote on Twitter. “He’s now trolling us.” He further accused DeSantis of “using [the] same font as Truth Social” when it came to the graphic that was behind the governor during the roundtable.
Former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka responded, “What???????” while stoking the outrage of MAGA internet dwellers. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone additionally called DeSantis’ invite of Locke “tone-deaf.”
“Why would DeSantis agree to this?” the conservative-leaning polling firm Rasmussen further asked.
“It really confirms what I’ve been saying all along,” Loomer added. “DeSantis doesn’t care about voter fraud, problems with electronic voting machines, & he doesn’t care about free speech.”
As for Locke, her track record when it comes to successfully winning lawsuits against media companies is something of a mixed bag. Most notably, Locke successfully sued Rolling Stone magazine after it published a report alleging gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, which journalists, police, and university officials later discredited. In 2017, Rolling Stone agreed to a confidential settlement with a UVA dean they defamed.
Since then, Locke's causes haven't fared as well. While she only represented Palin against The New York Times for a successful appeal that allowed the case to go to trial, the case ultimately failed. Another one of her clients, Project Veritas, was ordered to pay $149,596 in August of 2022, after a failed defamation suit against Stanford University. (Project Veritas said at the time they would appeal the ruling.) On Tuesday, she grappled with what she believes is a judiciary system stacked against conservatives.
“The problem is, at every stage of the legal process, from the moment you file your complaint, all the way through appeal, the thumb is on the scale in favor of the press,” Locke fumed. “Judges get very nervous about applying the law in a way that is favorable, or is even, even-handed, to a defamation plaintiff.”
Tuesday’s dustup over Locke’s involvement in representing Dominion Voting Systems is the latest in a series of attacks lodged against the Florida governor by Trump allies and as the governor leaves the door open to running for president against Trump in 2024.
On Tuesday alone, Trump amplified a claim that alleged DeSantis took part in the “grooming [of] high school girls.”
Trump going heavy on the "DeSantis is a pedophile" stuff today. pic.twitter.com/LS2zRpke3z
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) February 7, 2023
But even before this week, Trump attacked DeSantis late last year over “playing games” when it comes to dodging whether or not he will run in 2024 for president. The governor later responded, directing the former president to “check the scoreboard.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Locke only worked on Palin’s case against The New York Times during a successful appeal for a trial.
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