2020 Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has a “fighting chance” of winning the $50 million defamation lawsuit she filed against Hillary Clinton this week, according to legal experts.
Time Magazine spoke with several attorneys who specialize in defamation for a piece published on Thursday in the wake of Gabbard’s announcement that she was suing Clinton for remarks the former secretary of state made during a 2019 podcast interview.
The legal experts were divided on whether Gabbard will emerge victorious and said the case turns on whether the Hawaii Democrat’s attorneys can prove Clinton’s comments were “statements of fact” or “statements of opinion.”
Rodney Smolla, Dean of the Delaware Law School of Widener University, told Time that he believes Gabbard’s lawsuit has a “solid fighting chance of succeeding.”
“Secretary Clinton’s statement is right on the cusp,” Smolla said in an email to Time. “For Clinton to label Gabbard a ‘Russian asset’ could be understood as mere hyperbole. But it could also be understood as implying that Clinton has ‘inside knowledge.’”
Joseph Cammarata, who represented Bill Cosby against several defamation accusations, said it would be reasonable for listeners to believe Clinton was “operating with undisclosed facts” and relaying what was, in her mind, the truth.
That would make the former first lady’s remarks “statements of fact,” he said.
Cammarata described Gabbard’s case as strong, according to Time.
But other experts who spoke to Time were less bullish on Gabbard’s chances.
“It appears from the context that Hillary Clinton wasn’t saying that Tulsi Gabbard actually works for or is paid by the Russians, [but] rather that her candidacy advances Russian interests,” said Lyrissa Lidsky, the Dean of the University of Missouri School of Law.
“She’s speaking figuratively rather than strictly factually,” Lidsky added.
Christina Hull Eikhoff, an Atlanta law firm partner who specializes in defamation law, characterized Gabbard’s lawsuit as “political posturing.”
Gabbard filed the lawsuit against Clinton on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that Clinton “deliberately and maliciously made false statements in an attempt to derail Rep. Gabbard’s campaign.”
Although Clinton stopped short of naming Gabbard during the interview, she was not subtle.
“I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” Clinton said. “She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.”
Clinton went on to accuse Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president in 2016, of also being an asset of Russia.
“That’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset,” she said.