Unfortunately for their proponents, these theories carry one very significant drawback: legal liability. While broad claims of voter fraud are relatively unspecific and involve many potential perpetrators, there are relatively few voting-machine companies. Making such claims impugns them specifically and creates a situation in which those assertions can lead to calculable personal and business harm, which is important when it comes to suing someone for defamation. Such claims have also put lawyers pushing them at risk of incurring professional sanctions.
The result: Many if not most of the high-profile purveyors of such claims have since backed off.
One by one, they’ve succumbed to legal pressure by issuing corrections, clarifications or apologies. And those continue through today, with Fox News and pro-Trump lawyer L. Lin Wood both distancing themselves from such claims over the past 24 hours.
On Sunday, Fox News ran an unusual disclaimer during Trump’s speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas making clear that voting-machine companies have denied his allegations.
“The voting system companies have denied the various allegations made by President Trump and his counsel regarding the 2020 election,” the chyron said.
What was particularly interesting about this is that Trump didn’t even specifically cite voting machines. He instead referred obliquely to the idea of malfeasance on election night, saying he had done so well “that they just said the hell with it, let it go.”
But despite the lack of a specific claim, 10 seconds later the chyron popped up. The episode seemed to reinforce the perceived liability involved. (Fox has filed motions to dismiss lawsuits against it brought by the two voting-machine companies at issue, Dominion and Smartmatic.)
Similarly, on Monday, Wood told a federal judge in Michigan that he was not involved in a desperate lawsuit filed in that state that involved voting machines — despite his name appearing in court documents. “I just didn’t have anything to do with this,” Wood said during a hearing on potential legal sanctions for him and other lawyers who pushed false claims.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) summarized Wood’s claim sarcastically: “Strong argument to make when one believes in the strength and righteousness of their case.”
While some true believers viewed these lawsuits as opportunities to prove malfeasance once and for all, through the discovery process, those facing penalties have repeatedly left them high and dry — almost as if the theories were completely baseless in the first place and they didn’t have a leg to stand on.
Below is a timeline of how such claims against both Dominion and Smartmatic have been effectively disowned by those disseminating them.
Dec. 18-20: Fox News and Fox Business Network run a deposition-esque segment featuring an expert dismissing various voting-machine claims on three shows that had featured such assertions, after Smartmatic issued a legal demand letter. (Fox would later sideline a host of one of the shows, Lou Dobbs, despite his show being the highest-rated one on FBN.)
Dec. 20-21: Newsmax posts a statement, which a host reads on-air, clarifying that the channel has not proved such claims, while arguing that it also hadn’t stated the claims as true.
Feb. 2: Newsmax attempts to stop MyPillow CEO and Trump supporter Mike Lindell from making claims about Dominion during an interview. A host reads a legal disclaimer while talking over Lindell and later walks off the set when Lindell refuses to yield. “We just want to let people know that there’s nothing substantive that we have seen,” the host says.
Jan. 15: The right-wing American Thinker blog issues a full-throated apology and retraction of voting-machine stories written by four authors, calling the sources behind them “discredited” and saying their “statements are completely false and have no basis in fact.”
Jan. 20: It is reported that One America News, despite criticizing its competitor Newsmax for caving to legal pressure, removed a number of stories about voting machines from its website, without formally retracting them.
Feb. 1: In a New York Times story, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel acknowledges that she worried about legal liability from the RNC hosting a news conference in which Trump lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell made various unproven claims about the election.
Feb. 4: WABC, the radio station that hosts Giuliani’s show, runs a disclaimer distancing itself from claims made on his show. Giuliani says he was unaware the disclaimer would be aired, labeling it “rather insulting.”
Feb. 5: While airing Lindell’s documentary, OAN runs an extensive disclaimer. Despite Lindell claiming “absolute proof” — and that being the actual title of the documentary — OAN says claims in the documentary “are not intended to be taken or interpreted by the viewer as established facts.”
March 22: Powell files a motion to dismiss Dominion’s lawsuit against her. But rather than standing by her claims, she says that “reasonable people” wouldn’t take them as fact and that she was merely acting as a legal advocate. This despite Powell having said repeatedly that she had irrefutable proof backing up her claims, frequently labeling the release of such information the “Kraken.”
April 28: A lawsuit brought by eight voters claiming a massive conspiracy involving Dominion and various state officials is dismissed. A judge dismisses the case because the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to bring it, but also notes there are myriad reasons to dismiss the case and adds that the plaintiffs “have voluntarily dismissed the claims against the various state officials” in the alleged conspiracy.
April 30: Newsmax releases a statement apologizing to Eric Coomer, a top official at Dominion Voting Systems, who filed a lawsuit against Newsmax in December. The channel disowns claims made about Coomer that he interfered with voting machines and had ties to antifa. “Newsmax subsequently found no evidence that such allegations were true,” the apology says. “Many of the states whose results were contested by the Trump campaign after the November 2020 election have conducted extensive recounts and audits, and each of these states certified the results as legal and final.”
May 18: In a court filing in Dominion’s lawsuit in Delaware, Fox News claims that it was merely presenting the allegations and that it covered them critically.
June 12: Newsmax again issues a statement distancing itself from Lindell’s claims after Lindell attacks its coverage. “Newsmax has reported aggressively on President Trump and his campaign’s allegations, but any conclusions we make must be backed up by actual evidence of wrongdoing,” Newsmax said. “Our job is to report the facts as we know them, and that will make some folks unhappy.”
June 24: A federal judge challenges Powell’s lawyer about Powell’s claim to have video evidence of Dominion’s founder saying his technology could change a million votes. (The video was never produced.) “You’ve conceded there is no such video,” the judge said. Powell’s attorney Howard Kleinhendler, though, declines to confirm or deny the existence of such a video. “I don’t want to concede anything,” Kleinhendler says.
July 11: Fox runs a disclaimer during Trump’s CPAC speech stating, “The voting system companies have denied the various allegations made by President Trump and his counsel regarding the 2020 election.”
July 12: Wood claims he had nothing to do with the Michigan lawsuit, despite having said previously that he was indeed involved.
This post has been updated.