The ‘red slime’ lawsuit that could sink right-wing media

By | December 21, 2020

Ben Smith reports:

Antonio Mugica was in Boca Raton when an American presidential election really melted down in 2000, and he watched with shocked fascination as local government officials argued over hanging chads and butterfly ballots.

It was so bad, so incompetent, that Mr. Mugica, a young Venezuelan software engineer, decided to shift the focus of his digital security company, Smartmatic, which had been working for banks. It would offer its services to what would obviously be a growth industry: electronic voting machines. He began building a global company that ultimately provided voting machinery and software for elections from Brazil to Belgium and his native Venezuela. He even acquired an American company, then called Sequoia.

Last month, Mr. Mugica initially took it in stride when his company’s name started popping up in grief-addled Trump supporters’ wild conspiracy theories about the election.

“Of course I was surprised, but at the same time, it was pretty clear that these people were trying to discredit the election and they were throwing out 25 conspiracy theories in parallel,” he told me in an interview last week from Barbados, where his company has an office. “I thought it was so absurd that it was not going to have legs.”

But by Nov. 14, he knew he had a problem. That’s when Rudy Giuliani, serving as the president’s lawyer, suggested that one voting company, Dominion Voting Systems, had a sinister connection to vote counts in “Michigan, Arizona and Georgia and other states.” Mr. Giuliani declared on Twitter that the company “was a front for SMARTMATIC, who was really doing the computing. Look up SMARTMATIC and tweet me what you think?”

Soon his company, and a competitor, Dominion — which sells its services to about 1,900 of the county governments that administer elections across America — were at the center of Mr. Giuliani’s and Sidney Powell’s theories, and on the tongues of commentators on Fox News and its farther-right rivals, Newsmax and One America News.

“Sidney Powell is out there saying that states like Texas, they turned away from Dominion machines, because really there’s only one reason why you buy a Dominion machine and you buy this Smartmatic software, so you can easily change votes,” the Newsmax host Chris Salcedo said in one typical mash-up on Nov. 18. Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business reported on Nov. 15 that “one source says that the key point to understand is that the Smartmatic system has a backdoor.”

Here’s the thing: Smartmatic wasn’t even used in the contested states. The company, now a major global player with over 300 employees, pulled out of the United States in 2007 after a controversy over its founders’ Venezuelan roots, and its only involvement this November was with a contract to help Los Angeles County run its election.

In an era of brazen political lies, Mr. Mugica has emerged as an unlikely figure with the power to put the genie back in the bottle. Last week, his lawyer sent scathing letters to the Fox News Channel, Newsmax and OAN demanding that they immediately, forcefully clear his company’s name — and that they retain documents for a planned defamation lawsuit. He has, legal experts say, an unusually strong case. And his new lawyer is J. Erik Connolly, who not coincidentally won the largest settlement in the history of American media defamation in 2017, at least $177 million, for a beef producer whose “lean finely textured beef” was described by ABC News as “pink slime.” [Continue reading…]

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