As Rudy Giuliani railed about voter fraud from the lobby of the Republican National Committee’s headquarters a few weeks after the November 2020 election, rivulets of hair dye running down the side of his face, an executive at Fox Corporation let loose in text messages with his reaction.
“This sounds SO F------ CRAZY btw,” wrote Raj Shah, who had served as a senior aide in Donald Trump’s White House for two years before his hiring at Fox. “Rudy looks awful,” a deputy wrote back, prompting Shah to respond that “he objectively looks like he was a dead person voting 2 weeks ago.”
But Shah’s job at Fox was to protect the company’s brand, then under pressure from Trump allies who wanted to push Giuliani’s wild claims of a stolen election and who were abandoning the network for more hard-line options like Newsmax and One America News. So when a Fox News reporter went live on air just after Giuliani’s news conference concluded and declared that some of what the president’s lawyer had said was “simply not true,” Shah reacted with alarm.
“This is the kinda s--- that will kill us,” he texted the deputy. “We cover it wall to wall and then we burn that down with all the skepticism.”
The texts are drawn from more than a million pages of internal Fox correspondence released in recent weeks as part of a defamation lawsuit filed against the company by Dominion Voting Systems. The cache has revealed how Fox executives, producers and hosts expressed private doubts about Trump’s false election claims even as the network amplified the allegations on air.
The emails and text messages involving Shah offer a particularly vivid example of the pattern, demonstrating how elements of Fox, the Republican Party and the then-president’s own staffers spent years accommodating some of Trump’s worst impulses and amplifying some of his lies. When it came to the baseless election fraud narrative — including that counting dead voters had lifted the Democrats to victory — many of these people were aware of the likely falsity of the allegations but were unwilling to anger Trump or his supporters by clearly stating so publicly.
Shah is also a reminder of how Trump’s operation had become fused to the nation’s most watched conservative news channel, whose coverage had helped fuel his rise before his 2016 election. Shah was part of a long line of Trump underlings who passed back and forth between Trump’s orbit and Fox’s on- and off-air ranks.
Former Fox News co-president Bill Shine was hired as deputy White House chief of staff in 2018, picked in part because Trump was impressed by his experience overseeing television that appealed to the conservative base.
That same year, one of Trump’s closest advisers, Hope Hicks, was named head of corporate communications for New Fox, the successor to Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, after a two-year stint in the White House. She left Fox to return to the Trump administration in March 2020, as the reelection campaign heated up. Numerous Trump aides found post-government jobs as pundits on Fox’s airwaves.
In the lawsuit, scheduled to go to trial in Delaware next month, Dominion argues that Fox defamed the company by broadcasting falsehoods claiming its machines were used to help Joe Biden defeat Trump. Fox has said it was covering newsworthy claims, not promoting or endorsing them, and has accused Dominion of “distortions and misinformation in their PR campaign to smear FOX News and trample on free speech and freedom of the press.”
Shah, who remains at Fox, declined to comment through a company spokesman.
Before joining the White House, Shah, 38, worked for the Republican National Committee in four election cycles, focusing on opposition research against Democrats. As the party’s research director, Shah led the 2016 efforts to promote stories related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and her work at her family’s foundation.
After Trump won, Shah became a White House spokesman. In an administration where the top figures often battled to be in the news media and in the Oval Office, Shah liked to keep a lower profile, only occasionally speaking on camera and, unlike many others, reluctant to angle for one-on-one meetings with the president.
John Kelly, a former Trump chief of staff, said he had been impressed by Shah’s competence in a chaotic White House. Shah was popular among competing factions of the White House staff, five former administration officials said.
“He never struck me as that much of a Trump devotee,” Kelly said. “He seemed to be a guy that was trying to do a good job in a really difficult environment, and he was a straight shooter.”
In 2019, Shah left the White House and briefly worked for a major pro-Trump lobbyist and donor, Brian Ballard. “He understands crisis communications at a very high level,” Ballard said.
Shah then took a job as senior vice president of Fox Corp., where he came recommended by fellow White House alum Hicks. He arrived as the company was facing newly organized criticism of its coverage and boycotts of its advertisers. He testified in a January lawsuit deposition that he was hired to conduct “brand protection” for Fox and its properties, including Fox News.
One of his main jobs is to monitor problems — negative stories, online threats, rising criticism — that could affect the company’s bottom line and orchestrate ways to defend the hosts and the network.
Shah has relied on right-wing social media influencers to defend some of the criticisms, and has hired consultants at times. A former Fox employee said Shah worked closely with Tucker Carlson’s team and was trusted by the prime-time hosts as a vigilant defender against critics. He also served at times as a liaison between Fox executives and the prime-time hosts.
“There was a need for someone who could spot and put out political fires,” the former employee said.
In the documents, Shah emerges less as Trump’s man-on-the-inside at Fox than as a bridge between the then-president’s world and the network, and a reliable translator of Trump’s base for Fox’s management.
After Fox News called Arizona for Biden on election night, earlier than other networks, part of Shah’s job became to manage the rage of Trump and his supporters.
In testimony to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Hicks recalled that it was Shah whom she contacted on election night to find out how Trump’s team could complain about the Arizona call. She testified that Shah suggested the White House contact Jay Wallace, the president of Fox News, and provided his phone number.
In private text messages the following day, Shah made clear that he personally believed that Fox News’s Decision Desk had probably been correct when it concluded that Trump could not overtake Biden’s narrow lead in the key swing state, even though votes were still being tallied.
“What is the latest from Trump world?” a Washington lobbyist texted Shah. “Are we done or is AZ really still in play?”
“I don’t really think AZ is in play. I’m also seeing Fox’s perspective, where we called it early and are catching heat for this,” Shah responded.
By the following week, anger at the network among Trump’s supporters had spiraled. Shah became concerned that Fox’s viewers might be tuning out.
“Want to ask, even though it seems impossible, but is the idea of some sort of public mea culpa for the AZ call completely and totally out of the realm? Or some programming that’s focused on hearing our viewers grievances about how we’ve handled the election?” Shah inquired on Nov. 10 of Fox News PR Chief Irena Briganti.
Shah’s proposal was rejected on grounds that it would spark dissension between the network’s news and opinion employees, a narrative Fox could ill afford while already under fire.
As conservative anger at Fox grew and Trump’s allegations about the election results began to mount, Shah and his team monitored declining ratings with worry and arranged to survey Fox viewers about their reactions. It was a tactic drawn from the political campaigns with which Shah was familiar.
“Our brand is under heavy fire from our customer base,” he wrote in an email commissioning the survey. “Our concern is Newsmax and One America News Network,” he wrote in another email, naming two right-wing outlets that were more aggressively embracing Trump’s views and that Fox feared could eat into the network’s viewership.
“I’ve shared my thoughts … that bold, clear and decisive action is needed for us to begin to regain the trust that we’re losing with our core audience,” he wrote in an email the next day.
The Giuliani news conference on Nov. 19 deepened Fox’s dilemma. The former New York mayor appeared alongside attorney Sidney Powell, whom Giuliani referred to as one of the campaign’s “senior lawyers.” Powell had by then been featured repeatedly on Fox, where she lobbed false allegations that voting machines sold by Dominion had been manipulated in key swing states to flip votes from Trump to Biden.
Privately, however, texts released in the lawsuit show that Fox hosts and producers were growing frustrated with Powell. “Sidney Powell is lying,” Carlson wrote in a Nov. 17 text.
On the night of the news conference, Carlson opened his show expressing doubts about Powell. He told his viewers that he had taken her claims “seriously” but had been urging her to produce evidence of her claims without success. “She never sent us any evidence, despite a lot of polite requests. When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her,” he said.
The monologue earned Carlson some pushback from the right, including from Powell herself, who appeared on Fox rival Newsmax to declare Carlson “abrasive” and “disrespectful.”
Shah swung into action and deployed his contacts in Trump’s world, appearing to act more as a political operative than a traditional news network executive.
“After criticism from social media for Tucker’s segment questioning Attorney Sidney Powell’s outlandish voter fraud claims, our consultants and I coordinated an effort to generate Trump administration pushback against her claims,” Shah wrote in an email to his bosses a few days later. He continued: “We encouraged several sources within the administration to tell reporters that Powell offered no evidence for her claims and didn’t speak for the president.”
Indeed, on Nov. 22, Trump’s campaign issued a statement, attributed to Giuliani and fellow campaign attorney Jenna Ellis, declaring that Powell was “practicing law on her own” and was “not a member” of Trump’s legal team.
Despite his behind-the-scenes lobbying, Shah counseled a middle course in dealing with her claims on air. On the day after Carlson publicly challenged Powell, Shah and a Carlson producer weighed whether Carlson should devote time in his next show to Powell’s claim that she had an affidavit that would link Dominion to Venezuela.
“Might wanna address this, but this stuff is so f------ insane. Vote rigging to the tune of millions? C’mon,” Shah wrote.
Carlson’s producer, Alex Pfeiffer, responded: “It is so insane but our viewers believe it so addressing again how her stupid Venezuela affidavit isn’t proof might insult them.”
Shah advised that Carlson should mention the affidavit noting it was “not new info, not proof” but then quickly “pivot to being deferential.”
Pfeiffer, who has since left the network, answered that the delicate dance was “surreal.”
“Like negotiating with terrorists,” he added, “but especially dumb ones. Cousin f----- types not saudi royalty.”
In the following weeks, Trump continued to court voices who embraced his false claims the election was stolen — and Powell continued to appear on Fox.
On Jan. 3 — three days before the Capitol was attacked by Trump supporters as Congress met to confirm Biden’s win — Shah exchanged text messages with another former White House spokesman, Josh Raffel, who had been primarily responsible for handling communications for Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, senior adviser Jared Kushner.
Raffel flagged to Shah a tweet noting that Trump’s daily schedule now carried with it the vague assurance that the president would make “many calls and have many meetings” and “work from early in the morning until late in the evening.”
“I think what they meant is The President will wake up early and commit many, many crimes including but not limited to obstruction of justice, attempted fraud, and treason in an effort to conduct a coup. Then he’ll fly to a rally in furtherance of the same,” Raffel wrote. (Now a public relations executive in New York, Raffel declined to comment on the text.)
“It’s really disheartening,” Shah responded. “The only clear cut evidence for voter fraud is the failed attempts from Trump.”
Sarah Ellison in Washington and Yvonne Wingett-Sanchez in Phoenix contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the recipients of a Nov. 10, 2020, email from Fox Corp. senior vice president Raj Shah suggesting Fox News issue a “mea culpa” for calling Arizona for Joe Biden. The email was sent to Fox News PR Chief Irena Briganti.