Right-Wing Media’s Complicity In 2020 Election Plot Uncovered By Smartmatic & Defamation Suits
In a new court filing, Smartmatic claimed to discover potentially criminal activity by an OAN executive who was seeking to further Trump's plot to overturn the 2020 election.
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It was January 8, 2021. The violent January 6 insurrection occurred less than 48 hours earlier, where a mob of Trump supporters, radicalized by election lies, stormed the US Capitol.
The 2020 election was long over, yet Trump’s allies were still trying to overturn it. Trump and his team had coordinated with state officials to organize fraudulent electors and attempted to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers to reject legitimate Biden electors and submit Trump’s fake electors instead. While 147 congressional Republicans did vote to invalidate electoral votes, the effort failed, as the violence at the Capitol backfired.
After January 6, Trump’s lawyers, on the other hand, were still hard at work. They had been soliciting affidavits containing fake allegations of voter fraud. These false allegations were central to Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 results. It was under the guise of these lies that Trump based all of his corrupt actions aimed at our democracy. One of Trump’s more unhinged lawyers, Sidney Powell, was still actively working to substantiate these voter fraud lies, even after the failed insurrection.
On January 8, Charles Herring, the President of right-wing media organization One America News (OAN), sent an email to Sidney Powell with a spreadsheet claiming to contain the passwords of employees from the voting machine company Smartmatic.
That’s according to a new court filing from Smartmatic and bombshell reporting from CNN Reporter Marshall Cohen, who identified that the email’s sender and recipient were, in fact, Herring and Powell.
Smartmatic found this email during discovery in their defamation lawsuit targeting OAN for their spread of 2020 election lies about the voting machine company. In the December court filing, Smartmatic’s lawyers said the OAN President’s conduct appears to be criminal:
“Discovery from the (OAN) executive team is critical to establishing actual malice because the (OAN) executive team may have engaged in criminal activities to further the election fraud claims generally and Smartmatic fraud claims specifically…. Discovery to date has also uncovered that certain members of the (OAN) executive team appear to have violated state and federal laws regarding data privacy in connection with promoting election fraud claims.”
The context in which this email was sent and received makes it even more damning. At the time it was sent on January 8, 2021, Sidney Powell was fresh off a stint of multiple appearances on OAN, Fox News, and Newsmax - spreading election lies and defaming voting machine companies Dominion and Smartmatic. She was desperately seeking to affirm her lies, so much so that she committed an act that would later get her indicted by Georgia prosecutors in Fulton County’s RICO case against Trump and his allies.
One day before she received that email from Herring, she conspired with Republican poll watcher Scott Graham Hall to send a computer forensics team to Coffee County, Georgia, to steal and make copies of sensitive data, voting software, and equipment from an elections office.
Cathy Latham, former Coffee County GOP Chair who was also indicted for this conduct, escorted the team inside. Lawfare described what happened next:
Over the course of several hours, the forensics team handles, scans, and copies the state’s most sensitive voting software and equipment. All of this takes place without authorization from any court of law. The elections board will later claim it did not authorize the entry or copying, which the Georgia secretary of state’s office has referred to as “unauthorized access to the equipment that former Coffee County election officials allowed in violation of state law.”
This was all in an effort to corroborate Trump and his allies’ lies about these voting machine companies. The effort was clearly criminal, leading Sidney Powell to plead guilty to six misdemeanors for conspiring to intentionally interfere with the performance of election duties.
This entire episode spotlights how far Trump’s allies went to feed their 2020 election lies. It also showcases right-wing media’s complicity in the overall plot to overturn the 2020 election.
In this case of the OAN President, you have a right-wing news organization with cable news credentials that not only spread 2020 election lies but participated in potentially criminal activity in an effort to substantiate those lies and further the plot to overturn the election.
This isn’t all that surprising from OAN. OAN correspondent Christina Bobb literally collaborated with Rudy Giuliani and other members of Trump’s legal team to coordinate the fake elector plot. But to have a top executive from the company also participating in efforts to overturn the 2020 election is next level. Notably, the OAN President and this correspondent weren’t the only OAN associates affiliated with this kind of conduct.
CNN also reported that OAN Founder Robert Herring, the father of the OAN President, forwarded a similar spreadsheet to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell:
Another recent court filing in a related case suggests that Herring’s father, OAN founder Robert Herring, later sent the same or a similar spreadsheet to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has championed the false claim that Smartmatic and Dominion rigged the 2020 election.
The filing, from an ex-Dominion employee, says Robert Herring forwarded an email to Lindell that originated from his son, Charles, and that it contained “password information for employees of several voting systems providers.” The filing, from a defamation case against Lindell, said Charles Herring emailed those materials to Lindell in April 2022.
I’ve written about the power of defamation lawsuits to take disinformation head-on. These findings by Smartmatic and Dominion show that the process of discovery in these lawsuits can actually yield even more damning revelations than the original lawsuit allegations.
But OAN isn’t the only organization implicated in the plot to overturn the 2020 election. Fox News and Newsmax are just as guilty in their conduct. They all knowingly spread blatant lies about the 2020 election, and those lies played an integral role in Trump’s plot to undermine American democracy.
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How Was Right-Wing Media Complicit In Trump’s Plot To Overturn The 2020 Election?
Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News Network revealed how the network and its anchors knowingly spread lies about the 2020 election to their audience.
Fox News agreed to a $787.5 million settlement, the largest settlement in media history. There’s a reason the sum of damages was so large.
In depositions during the lawsuit, former Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch admitted that Fox knowingly pushed Trump’s false stolen election claims. In totality, the Dominion lawsuit indisputably found that Fox News execs and anchors—including Murdoch, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham—privately condemned Trump’s election lies even as they spread them and cracked down on fact-checking.
Fox News anchors not only spread election lies themselves, but they repeatedly hosted guests like Trump’s lawyers Rudy Guliani, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis to disseminate their baseless allegations. They did all this while privately acknowledging that these were outright lies. From CNN’s report on the Dominion court docs:
In one set of messages revealed in the court filing, Carlson texted Ingraham, saying that Sidney Powell, an attorney who was representing the Trump campaign, was “lying” and that he had “caught her” doing so. Ingraham responded, “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy [Giuliani].”
As a result of this lawsuit, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson was fired. His firing was a massive fall for the anchor, going from a primetime slot on America’s most-watched news network to posting clips to the website formerly known as Twitter.
In a sane reality, a scandal like this would grind any network to a halt. But Fox News continues on as a major source of disinformation.
Newsmax joined OAN in their attempts to outflank Fox News on the right during the period between November 7, 2020, and January 6, 2021. Their lies were equally damaging to the most radical members of Trump’s base.
Without right-wing media getting his back at every turn, Donald Trump wouldn’t have been able to spread his 2020 election lies as effectively. They provided the cover Trump needed to file his frivolous lawsuits, pursue the fake elector plot, and apply pressure to Pence, GOP congresspeople, and state officials. There might not have been a January 6 insurrection without these networks legitimizing the lies that led hundreds of people to illegally siege the Capitol.
More Accountability Coming
There are four more defamation suits going to trial in the next year or so related to the defamation of voting machine companies. Smartmatic has a $2.7 billion lawsuit targeting Fox News that will likely go to trial in 2025. Newsmax is also facing a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion set for a September 2024 trial and another defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic set for June 2024. Mike Lindell and MyPillow are also being sued by Smartmatic and could see court by April 2024.
Defamation suits from Dominion and Smartmatic are also still active against Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, who lost his defamation case to Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss and was ordered to pay them a whopping $148 million.
OAN also settled a lawsuit with Dominion and still faces a suit from Smartmatic. DirecTV dropped OAN from their cable packages, which dramatically damaged their audience and revenue.
Still, more consequences are on the way.
Right-wing media organizations had a choice: stand with truth and the democracy that enables them to even exist or spread Trump’s election lies in an effort to keep their audience radicalized at the expense of our democracy. They overwhelmingly chose the latter. It’s good to see they’re all facing some form of accountability. I’m eager to see what else is in store for them.