Beto O’Rourke Vows to ‘Never Back Down’ Against Billionaire’s ‘Frivolous’ Lawsuit

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Texas gubernatorial candidate and onetime presidential contender Beto O’Rourke is striking back against a Dallas oil billionaire’s defamation lawsuit, demanding a public trial and releasing a statement this week that declared, “I am ready for this fight.”

Kelcy Warren, a major donor to incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott, sued O’Rourke earlier this month for what he described as “a relentless and malicious attack” by the former Democratic congressman. O’Rourke blamed Abbott for last year’s deadly power failures that killed hundreds of people and suggested he failed to protect the state’s energy grid because Warren, the chairman and former CEO of Energy Transfer LP, paid him off.

Warren’s complaint, filed in San Saba County, claims that O’Rourke falsely accused him of “extortion, bribery and corrupt influence” because of his $1 million donation to Abbott’s campaign after the 2021 power grid crisis.

On Monday, O’Rourke’s lawyer filed a response to the lawsuit, saying it “failed to assert factual and legal grounds.” O’Rourke’s campaign also sent out a media release calling Warren’s legal battle “frivolous” and vowing the pipeline tycoon wouldn’t stop him.

“I am ready for this fight,” the Democrat said in a statement. “And like all Texans, I look forward to hearing Abbott explain to us why he chose the profits of his corporate donors instead of the people of Texas. He got millions in campaign contributions; we got a broken grid and higher utility bills each month.”

According to reports, Warren’s firm reaped a $2.4 billion windfall off the grid collapse due to surging natural gas prices.

O’Rourke added, “Kelcy Warren and Greg Abbott want us to stop talking about how Warren’s company made over $2 billion in profits while Texans were freezing to death, and then turned around and gave $1 million to Abbott’s campaign. But no matter how much money they have, or how hard they try to silence me in the courts, I will never back down from standing up for the people of Texas.”

The candidate announced Warren’s lawsuit during a news conference earlier this month, claiming the mogul was attempting to “use his billions of dollars to try to shut me down and shut us up from telling the story of what happened to the people of Texas.”

Soon after, a spokesperson for Abbott told the media, “Our campaign is in no way involved in this lawsuit.”

O’Rourke has centered his campaign on the February 2021 power system failures—which are estimated to have killed hundreds of people—and accused Abbott of failing to crack down on energy companies afterward. Instead, O’Rourke argued, Abbott received $4.6 million in campaign donations from the industry after the blackout. (Warren donated $1 million to Abbott in June 2021.)

“After Abbott let these corporations off the hook by not holding them accountable for price gouging the people of Texas, their top executives turned around and cut the governor $4.6 million in campaign checks,” O’Rourke said in his statement on Monday. “Now, one of these billionaire corporate executives is taking us to court for telling the truth.”

Warren has previously made headlines for his company’s Dakota Access Pipeline, which brought nearly a year of protests in North and South Dakota including by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which argued it would poison their water. According to the Intercept, Energy Transfer enlisted international security firm TigerSwan to deploy “military-style counterterrorism measures” against demonstrators.

Meanwhile, protesters demanded Warren step down from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Commission, to which Abbott appointed him in 2015. Warren had donated $555,000 to the governor’s campaign the year before.

Warren’s lawsuit against O’Rourke claims the Democrat “intended that his malicious and baseless defamatory statements publicly humiliate Warren and discourage others from contributing to Governor Abbott’s campaign.”

The billionaire’s filing called O’Rourke’s comments “completely out of bounds for any speech, let alone as talking points for a candidate for the Governor of the State of Texas.”

Warren wants O’Rourke to retract his statements and “cease and desist from hurling further defamatory falsehoods,” the complaint states, adding, “However, to date, Defendant O’Rourke has refused to do so.”

The complaint says that Warren is entitled to damages, including punitive damages and compensation for injury to his reputation, but doesn’t specify a monetary amount.

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