Robert Francis O’Rourke, the Democrat candidate running to replace sitting Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, is facing a defamation suit from Kelcy Warren, a Texas oil billionaire.

O’Rourke, an Irishman who calls himself “Beto” in the hopes of fooling people into believing he’s Hispanic, is currently losing to Abbott in every single poll by an average of nine points. According to the lawsuit, “O’Rourke, a failed politician who lost both his 2018 race for U.S. Senate and his 2020 race for the Presidency,” has sought to gain traction in the campaign by smearing Warren as someone who…


…“broke the law” and committed felonies — extortion, bribery, and corruption — when he purportedly “bought [] off” Governor Abbott “not to fix” the power grid in Texas so that Energy Transfer supposedly could make money in the event the grid failed.

When the lawsuit mentions “the grid,” it’s referring to the state’s electric grid and the terrible power outage parts of Texas faced when the grid went down after the state was hit with an unexpected winter storm in February of 2021. According to the suit, the Irishman O’Rourke said Warren’s energy company, Energy Transfer Partners, made $2.4 billion off the grid failure and then rewarded Abbott with a $1 million campaign donation as a payoff for not having fixed the grid.

The lawsuit reads:

On February 4, 2022, Defendant O’Rourke again stated that Warren and others engaged in “corruption” in a tweet with which he posted a video of himself explicitly stating that “they broke the law” and “paid off Greg Abbott[.]” In another tweet later that day, Defendant O’Rourke stated that “[e]nergy executives robbed us while Texans froze to death” and “Abbott let it happen because they gave him a cut.”

[…]

The next day, February 6, 2022, Defendant O’Rourke tweeted that “[g]as corporations made $11 billion by robbing Texans as they literally froze to death in their own homes,” and in a video he posted of himself accompanying the tweet, he stated that if he becomes governor, he will “seek justice from those who defrauded the people of this state.” Later that day, Defendant O’Rourke tweeted that “Abbott got paid off not to fix the grid” and in a video of himself accompanying the tweet made the same claim.

The suit says the Irishman O’Rourke is pledging to prosecute Warren and others if he becomes governor:

Defendant O’Rourke stated that “[t]his was no Act of God or Mother Nature,” and instead blamed that tragic story and hundreds of lost lives on Governor Abbott and “his donors in the gas industry.” In the video, Defendant O’Rourke also said “[l]et’s make sure there is justice, and consequences, for those who broke the law[.]” The same day, a local news outlet in San Antonio reported that Defendant O’Rourke accused Plaintiff Warren of bribing Governor Abbott.

In response to the suit, the Irishman O’Rourke is not claiming he didn’t say these things. Instead, he said Warren is hoping to silence him from telling the truth:

“Not only did he make windfall profits of the death, misery and struggle of our fellow Texans, he’s now trying to shut us down in the courts,” O’Rourke said Tuesday afternoon in Dallas. “He’s trying to shut us down in the courts through a frivolous lawsuit. And I wanted to make sure you heard that here directly from me here first.”

The Abbott campaign says it has nothing to do with the suit.

The Texas media are all excited for the Irishman O’Rourke. They think the publicity will lift his “underdog” campaign:

Politically, any activity relating to last year’s power grid failure could help O’Rourke keep attention on the issue, as he has aimed to do for month’s heading into the primaries.

Now, O’Rourke said his campaign would be paying for his legal defense, and he expressed confidence that his team’s efforts there would succeed.

Potentially even more revealing, though, is what could come out of discovery from a lawsuit about this topic — providing the lawsuit ever advances to that point — as it could be used to bring communications between Warren and state leaders about last year’s storm to public light.

Defamation lawsuits can be tricky. One issue could be whether the court finds Warren is a public figure, in which case the Supreme Court has held that the plaintiff must prove “actual malice” instead of mere negligence to result in a verdict of defamation. Another is that Irishman O’Rourke may claim he was engaging in “rhetorical hyperbole” instead of making factual accusations. But falsely accusing someone of a crime is what is called defamation per se, where the client does not even need to prove financial damages. So if the court rejects those arguments, Irishman O’Rourke could be in serious trouble unless his lawyers can prove through what comes out in court that this businessman was literally involved in criminal activity (of which there is currently no evidence).

But if the claims in the lawsuit are accurate and the Irishman O’Rourke did indeed accuse Warren of bribing Abbott not to fix the power grid and related crimes of extortion and corrupt influence, that’s a helluva thing to say. And I’m not sure it looks good for O’Rourke to be running around accusing people of Bond-villain level crimes like this. Desperation is never a good look, and he’s basically accusing Warren and Abbott of being sociopaths.

The case is Warren v. O’Rourke, #10,204 in the District Court of San Saba County, Texas.

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