Newsmax counter-sues Smartmatic, widening fight over U.S. election fraud claims

FILE PHOTO: The corporate logo of Smartmatic is seen at its offices in Caracas

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Right-wing U.S. television network Newsmax Media Inc on Monday countersued Smartmatic Corp, an election security firm that says it was defamed by Newsmax's coverage of the 2020 presidential election.

Smartmatic sued Newsmax in November for amplifying false claims that Smartmatic voting machines rigged the election against then-President Donald Trump, who persists in falsely claiming his defeat was the result of fraud.

In a response filed in Delaware state court, San Diego-based Newsmax denied it defamed Smartmatic and claimed that the election software firm was trying to censor free speech and intimidate a critic.

"The action brought by Smartmatic against Newsmax arises from and is because of Newsmax's exercise of its right to free speech in connection with issues of public interest," Newsmax's lawyers said in the filing.

A Smartmatic spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Newsmax's counter-claim has little merit, said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who is not involved in the case.

Smartmatic has a strong defamation case that should proceed toward trial, Levinson added.

"The potential irony here is that if anyone is attempting to chill free speech, one could argue it's Newsmax," Levinson said.

Smartmatic, whose U.S. headquarters is in Boca Raton, Florida, in February has also sued Fox News, a subsidiary of Fox Corp, and One America News Network over their election coverage.

Another voting machine firm, Dominion Voting Systems Corp, has brought similar lawsuits. Like Smartmatic, Dominion is seeking billions of dollars in damages.

The networks have said they reported on matters of public concern and their reporting is protected by the free speech protections in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

Fox News has asked a state court judge in New York to dismiss Smartmatic's lawsuit. The judge has not yet ruled on the request.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)