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Elvia Díaz: Arizona voters won't forget how Kari Lake lied and lost

Woman with short hair speaks into microphone
Kari Lake speaking with attendees at the 2023 AmericaFest at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix on Dec. 17, 2023.

Last week, Kari Lake did something rare when you’re sued for defamation during a high profile political campaign: She gave up.

She chose not to defend herself in a defamation case filed by Maricopa County Recorder and fellow Republican Stephen Richer. Instead, she asked a judge to jump directly to determining damages, requesting what’s called a default judgment.

That means she will also skip what’s called discovery, where she would have had to turn over documents related to what she now admits were lies about Richer and his rigging of the 2022 election, which she lost to now-Gov. Katie Hobbs.

She said in public she decided not to participate in the lawsuit in order to not legitimize it. But she still maintained in public — though not in court — that what she said about Richer was true.

Now there are questions about its impact on her campaign for U.S. Senate going forward and whether or not she’s baiting Richer into suing her again.

To break it all down, The Show spoke with Elvia Díaz, editorial page editor of the Arizona Republic.

Full interview

LAUREN GILGER: So I want to start with what has happened in the days since Lake declined to defend this lawsuit. What’s your take on Lake’s response here?

ELVIA DÍAZ: Well, not not surprising, considering that others have done the same thing. The others in the Trump world. I mean, she immediately tried to spin it forward in saying that Richer was bluffing to begin with and that there is no point for her to defend herself. And so let it be, but also immediately tried to capitalize on it in asking voters to support her, to still rally behind her.

And you are correct when you are saying that in court she’s not saying anything. She essentially gave up the opportunity to fight the merits of the lawsuit. So she’s not defending herself. Yeah, she is trying desperately to spin it and to tell the public that she is in fact winning, when clearly any thinking person would know that that is not the case.

GILGER: So this also comes at a time when the financial situation for Lake’s campaign is in question. She’s well behind her major opponent on the Democratic side, Ruben Gallego, in fundraising. How could this lawsuit play into that?

DÍAZ: Well, I think that’s the biggest question. And everyone is looking at that. And I think that’s the biggest repercussion.

One, the legality of it. Again, she admitted essentially that she lied and she is trying to spin this forward. And you are correct that she is behind the Democratic opponent, Ruben Gallego. She’s still facing a primary, a Republican primary. But the most important thing is, is she going to be able to keep raising money since — as we mentioned a few times already — she is behind?

But also what are the national Republican folks going to do? Are they really going to finance her? Are they going to be having second thoughts about her ability to win in November?

I mean, keep in mind that in the primary, the core supporters will probably stay with her no matter what, and they’re probably going to give money no matter what.

But in the general election, it’s going to be a totally different animal. She will have to appeal to moderate Republicans. She will have to appeal to independents. And that’s where she needs the most money, which she doesn’t have.

GILGER: Was this smart, though, in a way, for her to decide not to get bogged down in what could have been a risky discovery period in this lawsuit, and it could have been playing out during this campaign for Senate. Will we all sort of forget about this after a week or two because she chose not to fight it, you think?

DÍAZ: No, we won’t. And I’m not a lawyer. So I don’t know from the legal standpoint. From the political standpoint, this is far from over. We’re going to be talking about this from now through the end of the campaign.

That was her spin of the situation. Like, “I don’t want to deal with this. I’m focusing on the campaign.” Ecept that she’s admitting that she lied. And then we don’t know what the judge is going to do in terms of damages. We don’t know what is the amount that that is going to be assigned to that.

So this is far, far from over. And she’s saying that she didn’t want to go through discovery, which is a phase of focus, of proof. Each side has to prove their argument. She will have to do that anyway in the damages phase of the case, so far from over.

Again, legally, I do not know. I’m not a lawyer, but politically very damaging.

GILGER: OK, so final question for you, and this is sort of jumping off of a column by you, one of the columnists there, E.J. Montini, who talks about maybe in her reaction to this, she might be baiting Richer into suing her again. I wonder what you think of that take.

DÍAZ: I haven’t spoken with the county recorder about whether he’s thinking about suing. I don’t think so. I think there is a lot going on here. I think he’s going to be focused on the discovery phase of the damages here. Columnist E.J. Montini has his take that maybe she’s trying to taunt him to do so.

(Richer) is a very smart guy. I don’t think he’s going to do it. Another one of my columnists on the conservative side, Phil (Boas), is arguing that Stephen Richer should have not sued in the first place because political speech become actionable. Well, we’ll see, but there’s a lot going on right now to even think about a new lawsuit.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.