Fox News star Sean Hannity – one of former President Donald Trump's strongest allies on the air and one of his closest advisers off it – admitted under oath that he never believed the lie that Trump was cheated of victory in the 2020 presidential election by a voting tech company.
That stands in contrast to what played out on some of Fox's biggest shows – including Hannity's. On television, Fox News hosts, stars and guests amplified and embraced such wild and false claims, made by Trump, his campaign lawyers and surrogates, presenting them to millions of viewers.
Hannity and a top Fox News executive who oversees prime-time programs told a different story about Trump's false claims of fraud under oath and in front of attorneys, during separate depositions in a $1.6 billion defamation suit. While the depositions happened in August, their statements emerged yesterday in a Delaware Superior Court hearing relating to a series of motions by the two sides in the case.
"I did not believe it for one second," Hannity testified, according to an attorney for Colorado-based Dominion Voting Systems, who was offering it as a precise quote.
Meade Cooper, Fox News' executive vice president, "confirmed under oath she never believed the lies about Dominion," the Dominion attorney, Stephen Shackelford, Jr., also said.
"Tucker Carlson, he tried to squirm out of it at his deposition," Shackelford added, and then alluded to the Fox News star's texts from November and December 2020, when Judge Eric Davis cut Shackelford off.
Those sworn interviews took place during what's called the discovery phase of the case, in preparation for trial, which is scheduled for April.
Hannity gave airtime to election falsehoods he says he didn't believe
Dominion Voting Systems' suit against Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corp, is roiling the network, the corporation and the Murdoch family that controls them both. Dominion alleges it was unjustly damaged by the false claims that its machines were intentionally rerouting Trump's votes for Joe Biden.
Those claims were broadcast on conservative media, most prominently Fox News, after Election Night. Dominion alleges that was a concerted effort from the top to bottom of Fox to win back viewers after the network was the first to project the key swing state of Arizona for Biden. Trump denounced Fox and millions of his supporters abandoned the network that month. The Murdochs and Fox stood by the call of Arizona.
As NPR first reported, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott warned colleagues "we can't give the crazies an inch."
And yet, Hannity was among those who gave airtime to Trump's claims. On Nov. 30, 2020, for example, he invited Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell on his program for a "one-on-one" interview. By then, she had tied together Trump bogeymen, as the Daily Beast noted in a write-up, including "the dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, liberal philanthropist George Soros, communist Chinese money, and the CIA."
Hannity and Fox News host Jeanine Pirro were among those network stars who gave Powell valuable minutes to allege that the voting machine software was designed to hand over Trump votes to Biden, and affirming her frustration that Democrats would not aid her effort for more information about Dominion's machines.
Fox Business star Maria Bartiromo promoted the lies in an interview with Trump, his first on television after the election. Lou Dobbs returned to the topic repeatedly. Dobbs left Fox Business just after Smartmatic filed its lawsuit.
Insights that could help Dominion build its case against Fox
The brief insights into what those key Fox figures said during recent depositions echoed an earlier disclosure, first reported by NPR: A junior producer had emailed colleagues shortly after the 2020 election begging them to keep Fox star Pirro from repeating lies she had pulled from crackpot conspiracy theory websites.
To win in court, Dominion must build a defamation case showing Fox stars and decision-makers knew these claims of election fraud were lies, but let them be broadcast anyway, or were negligent in disregarding strong warning signs. The remarks by Hannity and Cooper appear to help the voting tech firm's legal team construct its case. Hannity made similar remarks saying Trump had lost in private texts with his final White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows; in this instance, however, Hannity has sworn under oath that he never believed any of the former president's claims.
Fox says the allegations were about an inherently newsworthy event–the election–made by an inherently newsworthy source, the sitting president. It argues the case is an affront to free speech principles. And it appears to be readying a defense in part based on convincing a jury that Dominion cannot prove intent on Fox's part or the financial harm to the firm it claims.
Testimony given under oath during this discovery process is not available to the public, including the depositions of top stars, executives and the Murdochs themselves.
Other documents are sealed or redacted, which means certain words, sentences and even paragraphs or pages are blacked out and unreadable by the public. Judge Davis warned that the fact some material may prove embarrassing is not enough to keep it out of the public eye. Even so, Fox News won the right yesterday to keep some documents sealed, despite arguments advanced by Dominion's legal team.
During yesterday's nearly three-hour-long hearing, attorneys also debated whether Smartmatic, another voting tech company and a competitor of Dominion, could intervene in the case. Smartmatic is seeking access some of those heavily redacted or confidential documents for potential use in its own defamation case against Fox, filed in a New York court in 2021. That case is not as far along in the legal process as Dominion's. Judge Davis dismissed Smartmatic's request.
In an order issued today, Davis combined the two technically separate, but parallel cases Dominion has brought against Fox News and Fox Corp in Delaware. The judge also addressed concerns raised by Dominion that Fox News and Fox Corp has failed to share the materials it needs to make its case. Judge Davis compelled Fox News and Fox Corp to produce all material that it is required to in discovery by January 9th and a corporate representative and attorney for each will have to certify that it has shared everything necessary.
Fox Corp boss Lachlan Murdoch, his son, already sat for a deposition in Los Angeles. His father - and the media empire's founder - Rupert Murdoch was scheduled to be deposed over two consecutive mornings earlier this month. But that had been delayed. Judge Davis's order holds that the elder Murdoch and all other outstanding witnesses must sit for depositions next month.
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