Beto O’Rourke says Dallas billionaire Kelcy Warren is suing him for defamation

Beto O’Rourke is being sued for defamation by Dallas billionaire Kelcy Warren in what the Democratic gubernatorial nominee describes as an effort to silence him from criticizing energy companies that he says made illegal profits from last year’s winter storm that left millions without power.

Warren is the chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer Partners.

“All I have done today and all I’ve done over the course of the campaign is to share these facts with the electorate that will decide the outcome of this next election,” O’Rourke said during a news conference in Dallas. “I want to make sure that there is justice for those who were killed effectively by this governor. I’ll make sure there’s justice for the ratepayer who is now forced to foot the bill for these illegal windfall profits made by the gas companies and Energy Transfer Partners and others here in the state of Texas. ”

Neither Warren or officials at his company commented on the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who O’Rourke is challenging in November, said Abbott had nothing to do with the lawsuit.

“Our campaign is in no way involved in this lawsuit,” said Abbott campaign spokeswoman Renae Eze before taking a shot at O’Rourke for asking his press aide about the contents of the lawsuit during his news conference. “Having to rely on his communications director to answer simple questions from the press corps shows that Beto O’Rourke is not ready for primetime.”

Kelcy Warren, Chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer, speaks during an unveiling ceremony for a ...
Kelcy Warren, Chairman and CEO of Energy Transfer, speaks during an unveiling ceremony for a memorial in honor of the five officers who died on July 7, 2016 at the Jack Evans Police Headquarters in Dallas on Monday, July 8, 2019. (Ryan Michalesko / The Dallas Morning News)(Ryan Michalesko / Staff Photographer)

The lawsuit against O’Rourke was filed Feb. 22 in San Saba County. It describes O’Rourke as a “failed politician” and demands he stop making and retract falsehoods made about Warren.

“O’Rourke intentionally, repeatedly, and widely disseminated his deliberate and defamatory falsehoods through publicly released messages on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites and during speaking engagements and interviews,” the lawsuit states. “O’Rourke intended that his malicious and baseless defamatory statements publicly humiliate Warren and discourage others from contributing to Governor Abbott’s campaign.”

Beto O'Rourke speaks with Steven Brown at City Square Opportunity Center in Dallas, Texas on ...

The lawsuit says O’Rourke went beyond normal political talking points.

“That Warren has committed felonies in a purported effort to profit off the suffering of his fellow Texans are completely out of bounds for any speech, let alone as talking points for a candidate for the Governor of the State of Texas,” the lawsuit states. “The accusations go well beyond the sorts of vague and generalized accusations of political and corporate corruption that are often thrown around; rather, they focus on a particular person, a particular campaign contribution, at a specific point in time, and a particular purported favor done in exchange for the contribution. ”

O’Rourke has made the winter storm and its fallout his core campaign issue. Last month O’Rourke staged a multi-city tour across Texas that coincided with the anniversary of the winter storm that left millions without power and resulted in the deaths of over 240 people.

O’Rourke has said energy companies “illegally” profited from the storm and with Abbott’s consent. He said Abbott was warned that the grid would not be able to handle a massive winter storm, but did nothing. The Democrat has pointed out that Abbott received a $ 1 million campaign contribution from Warren as his company reaped a $ 2.4 billion windfall because of the storm. At the same time, consumers are paying on average 32% more for their energy. The natural gas industry alone netted $ 11 billion in profits by selling their product at higher prices to power generators.

Texas Gov.  Greg Abbott, shown at a conservative think tank's conflab in Austin in January, ...

“He’s going to try to take me to court, 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,” O’Rourke said. “He’s trying to stop me from fighting for the people of Texas. And just like we did before, we are not backing down right now. ”

O’Rourke also did not back away from his comments about Abbott, saying the governor “essentially killed” Texans with his failure to secure the state’s power grid.

“Those 700 to 1000 to maybe more Texans would still be alive, If Greg Abbott had listened to those who said the grid was vulnerable we needed to weatherize every part of the grid, including the gas supply, no matter what it costs his donors to do that, ”O’Rourke said. “Greg Abbott chose his donors and political contributors over the people of Texas and the people of Texas pay the price.”

O’Rourke said that if elected governor he would winterize the gas supply, connect Texas to the national grid, lower utility costs by recouping money “stolen” by greedy energy companies, sue companies that engaged in price gouging and appoint an independent market monitor for natural gas issues.

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