- Dominion Voting Systems has sent letters to Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News warning of a defamation lawsuit.
- The voting firm is at the center of a baseless right-wing conspiracy theory that it manipulated the results of the 2020 presidential election.
- The letters, dated Tuesday, tell the recipients to preserve documents and copies of correspondences related to Dominion.
- Tom Clare, an attorney representing Dominion, told Insider it had “no choice” but to pursue legal action given how widely the conspiracy theory about the company had spread.
- He said the walk-backs from Fox News and Newsmax about Smartmatic, a rival voting-technology company, weren’t good enough.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Dominion Voting Systems has sent letters to Fox News and the right-wing media outlets Newsmax and One America News saying that it may sue over the baseless conspiracy theory that the election-technology company manipulated the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Dominion has also sent letters to the hosts and right-wing media figures Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and Maria Bartiromo, as well as Rush Limbaugh and Greg Kelly, a Newsmax host. Insider has reviewed the letters.
“We write regarding patently false accusations that Dominion has somehow rigged or otherwise improperly influenced the recent U.S. Presidential election — accusations that you have featured on your programming and that you yourself have also echoed,” the letter to Hannity said.
It demanded that he “cease and desist making defamatory claims against Dominion” and “retain all documents relating to Dominion and your smear campaign against the company.” It also said that “litigation regarding these issues is imminent.” The other letters had similar language.
The letters, dated Tuesday, tell the recipients to preserve documents and copies of correspondences related to Dominion. The company is at the center of a conspiracy theory that it has secret ties to a rival election-tech company, Smartmatic, as well as the dead Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, and that it developed technology to secretly flip votes from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden.
“We have put Fox and Newsmax and OAN on notice that we have claims, and that we are evaluating those claims, and that we’re intending to pursue those claims,” Tom Clare, an attorney for Dominion, told Insider in an interview Wednesday night. “We want to make sure that not only are they preserving documents, but they’re not doubling down on these same allegations.”
The letters to the media figures obtained by Insider are the latest detail about looming defamation litigation. The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday that Dominion would send the letters to the media companies.
Clare told Insider that Dominion had “no choice” but to pursue legal action given how widely the baseless conspiracy theory about the company has spread on right-wing news outlets and on social media. The company has been forced to hire private security to protect its employees against death threats.
“On cable news and on Twitter and YouTube videos — there isn’t a way to have the truth fairly adjudicated. There are no winners and losers; it’s just people yelling at each other,” Clare told Insider. “The only thing we’re trying to do is to expose the truth. If we have a court case, there are rules, there’s a process, there’s evidence. And at the end, there’s a verdict.”
Dominion also sent letters to other allies of Trump and Sidney Powell
Dominion has gone on the offensive in recent weeks, going after Sidney Powell, the former Trump campaign lawyer who filed four (failed) federal lawsuits propagating the conspiracy theory.
Judges overseeing her lawsuits have dismissed them, finding that the evidence she brought to support them bore little relationship to reality.
Since November, Powell has become a fixture on OAN and Newsmax and has been an occasional guest on Fox News.
Dominion has also sent letters to people described as witnesses in her lawsuits, including:
It has also sent a letter to Lin Wood, another attorney and ally of Powell and Trump.
Powell has declined to retract her statements about Dominion. Clare told Insider that Dominion’s legal action against her would move forward.
“If she doesn’t retract the statements — which she’s already said she won’t — then we’re going to move forward with defamation litigation against Sidney Powell,” Clare said.
Dominion has also sent letters to The Epoch Times, another influential right-wing media outlet, with extensive demands for retractions, and to Mellissa Carone, a Michigan resident whom Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has wrongly touted as a witness to voter fraud.
“Without a shred of corroborating evidence, you have claimed that you witnessed several different versions of voter fraud — ranging from one story involving a van, to other accusations that votes were counted multiple times,” the letter to Carone said. “You published these statements even though you knew all along that your attacks on Dominion have no basis in reality.”
It added: “You have positioned yourself as a prominent leader of the ongoing misinformation campaign by pretending to have some sort of ‘insider’s knowledge’ regarding Dominion’s business activities, when in reality you were hired through a staffing agency for one day to clean glass on machines and complete other menial tasks.”
Insider reported Wednesday that Dominion sent a document-preservation letter to Giuliani, who has spread elements of the conspiracy theory even as he has sought to distance himself from Powell. Dominion also sent a letter to Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel.
“We want Giuliani to preserve documents because he, of course, has been involved in many of these conversations,” Clare told Insider. “We are looking very seriously at Giuliani’s out-of-court statements that he has made, because he has made many of the same false and damaging allegations as Sidney Powell.”
Fox News’ approach to Smartmatic won’t cut it
A representative for Fox News directed Insider to an interview with the host Eric Shawn and an engineering professor who studied Dominion’s technology and said it was “physically impossible” for it to switch votes. The representative also pointed to a clip of the host Tucker Carlson expressing skepticism about Powell.
Earlier this month, Smartmatic, another election-technology company, sent retraction demands to Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN.
Fox News aired a clip of an off-screen interviewer speaking with an elections expert who said there was no link between Smartmatic and Dominion and no evidence that Smartmatic participated in malfeasance.
Newsmax had one of its hosts contradict its coverage of Smartmatic and posted the statement on its website. The network called it a clarification.
OAN didn’t respond publicly. Representatives for OAN didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Dominion has also sent retraction demands to the media organizations.
When asked whether Dominion would be satisfied if Fox News and Newsmax took the same approach toward it, Clare laughed and said, “No.”
“If you accuse somebody falsely on a prime-time slot or in the host’s own voice or in a 10-minute segment, then you need to have equal prominence and equal dignity into the retraction and apology,” he said.
In a letter to Newsmax dated Tuesday, Clare called its actions “deficient” and pointed out that videos and articles with false claims continued to circulate online.
“We are disappointed that Newsmax continues to publish lies about US Dominion Inc. despite our December 18, 2020 retraction demand,” the letter said. “Instead of retracting the false statements about Dominion — as detailed in our last letter — Newsmax instead decided to double down on its libel while simultaneously claiming to ‘clarify’ its news coverage.”
Clare told Insider that retractions must be made with the same prominence as the original false claim. As an example, he pointed to a 1998 defamation case with the Cincinnati Enquirer that he pursued while working as an attorney for the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. The Enquirer had to retract claims it made in an investigative story about the banana company Chiquita and published that retraction on the front page.
Clare said he keeps a copy of that front page hanging on his office wall as a trophy.
He said that if the news outlets were to issue full-blown retractions now, it would be “at least a good first step” but “too little, too late.”
“Here we are in late December, two months after the election almost,” he said. “So much of the damage has already been done.”
Clare also drew a distinction between Carlson, who has pushed back on the conspiracy theory, and hosts who have not. Hannity, Dobbs, and Bartiromo have hosted Powell on their shows without pushing back on her claims or repeated elements of the theory.
“There certainly have been on-air personalities at Fox that have, in our view, done the right thing. Tucker Carlson has said there is no evidence, these are not reliable allegations, these are not reliable people who are making these allegations and it’s irresponsible to put them on the air,” he said.
“There have been other personalities on Fox that have disregarded that,” he added.
‘Playing the long game’
Dominion and Smartmatic must also navigate the tricky political dynamics of telling the truth.
Polls have found that a large share of Republicans believe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected. Part of that belief can be attributed to false claims about voting technology.
Going against right-wing media organizations and individuals risks incurring the wrath of the president, who has himself driven the conspiracy theory that election results were secretly manipulated. Many of the figures are also friends of the president, like Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, who also received a letter.
Smartmatic has a small footprint in the United States — it worked with only one county in the November election.
Dominion, which serves several states and counties, must demonstrate that its technology is trustworthy to get contracts renewed for future elections. But elected conservatives may risk opposition from their base — and Trump’s Twitter feed — if they work with the company.
Clare said Dominion was “playing the long game,” evaluating each claim carefully, assessing the state of mind of potential defendants, and researching the relevant jurisdictions before going through with each lawsuit. The document-preservation letters are meant to ensure that evidence is locked down for when the company issues subpoenas during litigation.
“We are in the process of making those decisions about where people have not done the right thing,” he said. “And if the judgment is that they haven’t done the right thing, and we have the legally actionable claim, we’re going to bring it.”
Legal-ethics experts have told Insider that Powell and Giuliani are at risk of court sanctions for pushing the election conspiracy theories.
Dominion CEO John Poulos told CNN on Thursday that the company would not rule out taking legal action against Trump himself.
Clare told Insider he had little regard for the political dynamics. He said he believes people across the political spectrum can understand that integrity is important and that Dominion is trying to do right by its reputation. His law firm, Clare Locke, specializes in defamation and has also represented major right-wing figures like Sarah Palin and Kimberly Guilfoyle.
“The ‘how do we get to curry favor with people’ — we’re really not playing that game,” he said. “We are so badly damaged by [the false claims], the only thing that we can do is try to vindicate ourselves through the court system.”
This article has been updated.