Fox News-Dominion lawsuit: A timeline of the major revelations

A headline about President Donald Trump is displayed outside Fox News's studios in New York on Nov. 28, 2018. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
22 min

It has been a week since the release of extensive exhibits and depositions in Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News.

But the evidence is so voluminous — more than 1 million pages’ worth — that we still continue learning more about the period after the 2020 election at Fox. That includes Fox’s decision to shelve frequent Democratic guests, Tucker Carlson’s and his producer’s choice words about Donald Trump and their election-denying viewers, and Fox Corp. executive Raj Shah’s telling dance between personally deriding stolen-election claims and advising against covering them too skeptically.

It’s a lot to sort through, and the sequence matters a lot, when it comes to both Fox’s reputation and its legal fate.

So below we’ve assembled a timeline of some of the biggest and most telling events that we’ve learned about.

(A note before we start: The legal standard is whether Dominion can prove Fox acted with “actual malice” — that is, it made false statements while knowing they were false or with reckless disregard for whether they was false. Dominion argues the internal messages show many at Fox knew better about the Dominion claims, and thus its actions met that standard. Fox argues that its hosts were merely covering newsworthy claims and that certain hosts harbored sincere concerns.)

Nov. 3, 2020: Election Day

Shortly before midnight, Fox News’s decision desk calls Arizona for Joe Biden. Trump supporters cry foul at the allegedly premature call. Early the next morning, President Donald Trump falsely declares victory.

Nov. 5

Fox host Sean Hannity’s show focuses extensively on alleged voter fraud, and multiple guests refer to a potential “steal” of the election.

Fox’s chief legal officer, Viet Dinh, texts an executive: “Hannity is getting awfully close to the line with his commentary and guests tonight.”

Fox host Bret Baier texts internally that night: “There is NO evidence of fraud. None. Allegations — stories. Twitter. Bulls---. Nothing concrete. That will affect the spread in any of these states.”

Nov. 6

Fox executive Ron Mitchell writes to a fellow executive, “I think Sean will see the wisdom of this track eventually, but even this morning he was still looking for examples of fraud.”

While texting about Trump and his business ventures, host Tucker Carlson says: “All of them fail. What he’s good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong. It’s so obvious.”

Conspiracy theories about Dominion and voting software begin to percolate in right-wing media and on social media. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel cites a “software issue” in Antrim County, Mich., and notes that the software is used elsewhere.

Nov. 7

Fox News and others project that Biden has won the presidency.

Trump and an allied lawyer, Sidney Powell, join others in specifically citing Dominion Voting Systems.

Powell forwards a bizarre email to Fox host Maria Bartiromo in which a woman lodges a number a conspiracy theories about voter fraud and focuses on Dominion. The woman claims a software code was used in which “up to 3% of votes for Mr. Trump would automatically switch to Mr. Biden.” The woman also claims that the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia was killed “during a week-long human hunting expedition” and that former Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes is part of a group that meets regularly “to determine how best to portray Mr. Trump as badly as possible.” (Ailes had in fact been dead since 2017.) “The Wind tells me I’m a ghost, but I don’t believe it,” the woman also says.

Nov. 8: Dominion claims ramp up

Powell appears on Bartiromo’s show, and Bartiromo closely echoes false claims about Dominion from the email. The email claimed that “Nancy Pelosi’s longtime Chief of Staff is a key executive there, and that Richard Blum, Senator Feinstein’s husband, is … a significant shareholder of that company.” On air, Bartiromo cites “reports that Nancy Pelosi’s longtime chief of staff is a key executive at that company; Richard Blum, Senator Feinstein’s husband, significant shareholder of the company.” Powell responds that Democrats “have invested in it for their own reasons and are using it to commit this fraud to steal votes.”

A Fox spokeswoman internally and repeatedly calls the interview “problematic.” Fox communications executive Irena Briganti responds, “Yes tons of crazy. … Heard something on Feinstein husband, etc — she is one of our biggest issues right now.” The spokeswoman responds, “Yup — her husband runs it — all that was mentioned. So problematic.” They agree they won’t promote the interview.

As the organization begins to worry about losing viewers over its call in Arizona, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott relays guidance from Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and CEO Lachlan Murdoch. The guidance includes: “audiences don’t want to see too much of the Mayor Pete’s [Buttigieg] and [Sen. Chris] Coons [D-Del.] etc in the news hours. Need to be careful about bookings next 2 months-especially in news hours.”

Carlson texts, “With Trump behind it, an alternative like newsmax could be devastating to us.”

Nov. 9

Host Neil Cavuto cuts away from a news conference after White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany says Democrats are “welcoming fraud” and “illegal voting.” “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Cavuto says, adding, “Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.” An employee on Fox Corp. executive Raj Shah’s team emails Shah and others about Cavuto, labeling it a “Brand Threat.”

Carlson texts producer Alex Pfeiffer: “The software s--- is absurd. … Half our viewers have seen the Maria clip.”

Later on his show, Carlson says, “We don’t know how many votes were stolen on Tuesday night. We don’t know anything about the software that many say was rigged. We don’t know. We ought to find out.”

Nov. 10

Fox President Jay Wallace texts Scott: “The Newsmax surge is a bit troubling.” He adds that it “truly is an alternative universe when you watch, but it can’t be ignored.”

Scott texts a colleague: “[Fox reporter Peter] Doocy was still using Buttigieg sound in his reporter hit during special report last night.” The person responds: “On it.”

Nov. 11

Hannity internally says of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, “Rudy is acting like an insane person.”

On his show that night, Hannity says, “Investigations continue in multiple key states where hundreds, now, of sworn affidavits are being filed, lawsuits are being filed, alleging serious election misconduct. … And let’s not forget the software error — we’re going to be focused on this a lot — wrongfully awarded Joe Biden thousands of ballots that were cast for President Trump, until the problem was amazingly fixed. And according to a report, that very same software — it’s called Dominion Voting Systems — that was used in 28 states.”

Nov. 12: Growing pushback on the claims

The Trump administration’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) releases a statement saying, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Dominion begins circulating the CISA statement in a fact check of various claims about the company. It begins sending the fact check to Fox shows.

On Fox host Lou Dobbs’s show, Giuliani claims Dominion is owned by another election technology company, Smartmatic, and claims twice that Smartmatic was founded “to fix elections.” “They have a terrible record,” he says. “And they are extremely hackable.”

After Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich fact-checks a Trump tweet mentioning Fox’s coverage, Carlson texts, “Please get her fired. Seriously. … It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

Nov. 13

Someone texts Carlson, “Trump needs to concede. There wasn’t enough fraud to change the outcome. He’s [starting] to do real damage to the party.” Carlson responds: “That’s for sure. He’s only good at destroying.”

Nov. 14

Powell says on host Jeanine Pirro’s show: “We’re talking about the alteration and changes and millions of votes; some being dumped that were for President Trump, some being flipped that were for President Trump, computers being overwritten to ignore signatures — all kinds of different means of manipulating the Dominion and Smartmatic software, that, of course, we would not expect Dominion or Smartmatic to admit.”

Dobbs’s Twitter account promotes a Giuliani tweet and says, “Read all about Dominion and Smartmatic voting companies and you’ll soon understand how pervasive this Democrat electoral fraud is.”

Lachlan Murdoch internally objects to the news side’s coverage of a Trump rally: “News guys have to be careful how they cover this rally. So far some of the side comments are slightly anti, and they shouldn’t be. The narrative should be this is a huge celebration of the president. Etc.” Scott responds: “Yes thanks.”

Nov. 15

Powell says on Bartiromo’s show: “President Trump won by not just hundreds of thousands of votes, but by millions of votes — that were shifted by this software that was designed expressly for that purpose. … It was designed to rig elections. … It was exported internationally for profit by the people that are behind Smartmatic and Dominion. They did this on purpose. It was calculated. They have done it before.”

Bartiromo adds: “Look, I want to show this graphic of the swing states that were using Dominion and this software, the Smartmatic software. … The voting machines were used, Dominion voting machines were used in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And I have a graphic showing the states where they stopped counting, which I thought was also strange — to stop counting in the middle of election night.”

A Dominion representative sends Bartiromo’s show another lengthy fact check on Dominion claims, according to Dominion’s legal filings.

Nov. 16

Baier’s show plays the Nov. 15 Powell clip and includes pushback from an expert who says there is no evidence for Powell’s claims and adds, “This kind of pure speculation is irresponsible.”

Rupert Murdoch emails Scott about Newsmax: “These people should be watched, if skeptically,” adding, “We don’t want to antagonize Trump further, but Giuliani taken with a large grain of salt. Everything at stake here.” Murdoch also says, “Trump will concede eventually and we should concentrate on Georgia, helping any way we can” — an apparent reference to the GOP’s hopes in the Senate runoff election in that state.

Carlson complains about Fox’s PR team allegedly promoting a host’s fact check debunking claims like those made on Bartiromo’s show. Host Laura Ingraham says, “We are all officially working for an organization that hates us. … The people of news.” Ingraham adds: “My anger at the news channel is pronounced.”

Separately, Carlson texts someone, “Sidney Powell is lying.”

Dominion continues sending updated fact checks to Fox reporters, producers and anchors.

A group of 59 scientists release a statement saying there is “no credible evidence of computer fraud” in the 2020 election.

Nov. 17

Wallace speaks with a Dominion representative about the matter, according to Dominion court filings.

The News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal’s editorial board derides the voting machine claims. “Where’s the evidence?” it says. “Strong claims need strong proof, not rumors and innuendo on Twitter.” It adds that “so far there’s no good evidence of voting problems that would come close” to overturning Biden’s win. Dominion shares the editorial widely with Fox employees, according to its filings.

Bartiromo interviews Giuliani. She says, “I mean, if you’ve got Democrats in charge, from here on out they’re in charge of the machines. You’ll never see a Republican in the White House again.”

Carlson texts Powell, saying: “You keep telling our viewers that millions of votes were changed by the software. … If you don’t have conclusive evidence of fraud at that scale, it’s a cruel and reckless thing to keep saying.”

Nov. 18

Mitchell notes Newsmax has been citing the conspiracy-theory website Gateway Pundit, saying, “This type of conspiratorial reporting might be exactly what the disgruntled FNC viewer is looking for.”

Also internally, Ingraham calls Powell “a complete nut” and says: “No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.” Carlson responds: “It’s unbelievably offensive to me. Our viewers are good people and they believe it. … She’s soliciting ‘millions of dollars’ in checks made out to her personally.”

On her show that night, Ingraham refers to “affidavits from people who have been working in ballot counting for 20 years, who cited really disturbing things that they had seen.”

Nov. 19: The infamous news conference

Trump campaign lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani claimed Nov. 19 that President Trump lost the election because of a baseless conspiracy theory. (Video: Zach Purser Brown/The Washington Post)

Giuliani and Powell hold their infamous news conference full of wild and false voter-fraud claims, including Powell alleging a communist plot involving Dominion, Venezuela, Cuba and “likely China.”

Reporter Kristin Fisher says on-air, “So much of what he said was simply not true or has already been thrown out in court.” Host Dana Perino says shortly afterward on-air, “I wouldn’t be surprised if [Dominion] decided to take some sort of action against this because, as you said, they have had these allegations out there smearing an American company.”

Fox employees internally note the two segments. Fisher is personally admonished, according to her later deposition, in which she says she was told she was not “respecting our audience.”

Scott responds to the segments by saying, “You can’t give the crazies an inch right now … they are looking for and blowing up all appearances of disrespect to the audience.” She adds: “The audience feels like we crapped on [them] and we have damaged their trust and belief in us. … We can fix this but we cannot smirk at our viewers any longer.”

Shah tells a colleague about Fisher’s segment, “This is the kinda s--- that will kill us. … i think nothing that was said on air is wrong … this was a crazy presser, but we should make clear we’re exposed on the right.” Shah adds: “We cover it wall to wall and then we burn that down with all the skepticism.”

But Shah internally says in the same string during the news conference, “this sounds SO F------ CRAZY btw.”

Rupert Murdoch internally says of Giuliani’s performance at the news conference, “Really crazy stuff. And damaging.” He calls Trump and Giuliani “both increasingly mad,” and says, “Terrible stuff damaging everybody, I fear. Probably hurting us too.” Scott responds to the last message by saying, “yes Sean and even Pirro agrees.”

Mitchell also privately derides Powell’s claims, telling a colleague, “Will you be mentioning the international crime conspiracy to steal the election featuring Soros, Maduro, Chavez, Antifa, Cuba, and China?” But then he laments that “those clowns put us” in “an awkward place where we’re going to need to thread the needle.”

That night, Carlson runs a segment deriding Powell’s claims and noting that she has “never demonstrated that a single actual vote was moved illegitimately by software from one candidate to another. Not one.

Giuliani appears on Hannity’s show and connects a Dominion employee to an alleged vote dump in Detroit, saying: “They were being notified by Smartmatic in Frankfurt that Biden was way behind and they better come up with a lot more ballots. And we can prove every single thing I just said.”

Nov. 20

Dominion sends a retraction demand letter to Fox, according to its filings.

Dobbs producer John Fawcett texts Dobbs a link to a story on Carlson’s Powell segment.

A colleague texts Bartiromo about Powell, saying, “Sidney is so great” and “I believe everything she says.” Bartiromo responds: “So do I.”

Separately, Bartiromo emails with a Dominion spokesman who objected to Powell’s Venezuela claims, saying she was “not sure what to think” of the claims.

Shah and Pfeiffer converse about what to do with Powell’s claims and ultimately decide, with input from Carlson, not to belabor or push back on them. Pfeiffer adds, “This whole thing is surreal. Like negotiating with terrorists, but especially dumb ones. Cousin f----- types not saudi royalty.”

Rupert Murdoch emails Scott, saying of Washington editor Bill Sammon, who served on Fox’s election-night decision desk, “Maybe best to let Bill go right away and make acting appointment. Also the other guy. sensitive and we can’t have sneering at events. And be a big message with Trump people.” Scott responds, “We were going to do Stirewalt next,” referring to politics editor Chris Stirewalt, who also served on the desk. Both would soon be gone from the company. (Murdoch later claimed to The Washington Post, “Chris Stirewalt’s leaving had nothing to do with the correct Arizona call by the Fox decision desk.)

Nov. 21

Carlson internally calls Powell’s Dominion allegations “shockingly reckless.”

Pirro says on her show, “The president’s lawyers [are] alleging a company called Dominion, which they say started in Venezuela with Cuban money and with the assistance of Smartmatic software, a back door is capable of flipping votes. And the president’s lawyers [are] alleging that American votes in a presidential election are actually counted in a foreign country. These are serious allegations, but the media has no interest in any of this.”

Fox executive David Clark responds to a news clipping of Powell’s claims by saying, “Crazy town,” and says he is glad Pirro didn’t interview Powell or Giuliani that day. Pirro’s executive producer, Jerry Andrews, responds early the next morning, saying, “Jeanine is just as nuts.”

Nov. 22

Trump’s campaign disavows Powell, saying she is not a lawyer for the campaign nor for Trump personally.

Nov. 23

Shah writes to Scott, Dinh and Lachlan Murdoch, “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.” He adds that they “encouraged several sources within the administration to tell reporters that Powell offered no evidence for her claims and didn’t speak for the president.”

Shah adds that “this isn’t an audience that can easily be persuaded and are willing to believe just about anything.”

Carlson texts to Ingraham, “It was a total s---storm worth [sic] a lot of our viewers. I had to try to make the WH disavow her, which they obviously should have done long before.” Ingraham adds of Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis: “Jenna Ellis … Oy vey … No serious lawyer could believe what they were saying.”

On his show that night, Carlson says of electronic voting machines: “This is a real issue, no matter who raises it or who tries to dismiss it out of hand as a conspiracy theory. Electronic voting is not as secure as traditional hand-counting. Period. It never will be as secure.”

Nov. 24

Dominion sends Fox another document laying out how conservatives have debunked claims against the company, according to its filings.

Nov. 27

Fawcett texts Dobbs asking whether he had seen Powell’s lawsuits in Georgia and Michigan. “Yep whadya think?” Dobbs asks. “It’s complete bs,” Fawcett responds, adding: “I can’t believe that was the kraken.”

Nov. 30: Claims continue, despite warnings

Dominion President and CEO John Poulos writes a Wall Street Journal op-ed rebuking such claims about his company.

Powell appears on Dobbs’s show again, claiming Georgia voting machines were “infected with the software code that allows Dominion to shave votes for one candidate and give them to another.” Dobbs does not push back, and he says, “This thing should be shut down right now, and people understand that this will not be tolerated by the American people.”

On Hannity’s show, Powell says: “The machine ran an algorithm that shaved votes from Trump and awarded them to Biden. They use the machines to trash large batches of votes that should have been awarded to President Trump.” Hannity responds, “I thought Democrats told us we like whistleblowers.”

Dec. 1

Attorney General William P. Barr says of the voting-machine claims and other claims of widespread fraud: “The DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that.”

Dec. 2

Sammon writes to Stirewalt: “In my 22 years affiliated with Fox, this is the closest thing I’ve seen to an existential crisis — at least journalistically.” Stirewalt says, “What I see us doing is losing the silent majority of viewers as we chase the nuts off a cliff.”

Dec. 6

Former House speaker and Fox board member Paul D. Ryan texts Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, “I see this as a key inflection point for Fox. … A solid pushback (including editorial) of [Trump’s] baseless calls for overturning electors, etc. will undoubtedly accrue pushback and possibly a momentary ratings dip, but will clearly redound to our benefit in terms of credibility.”

Dec. 10

Powell appears on Dobbs’s show. Dobbs calls Powell’s allegations a “Kraken thunderbolt” and invokes a “Cyber Pearl Harbor” and “a very large foreign intrusion and interference in the election of 2020.” Powell says, “We now have reams and reams of actual documents from Smartmatic and Dominion, including evidence that they planned and executed all of this. … We have evidence of how they flip the votes, how it was designed to flip the votes.”

Dec. 18: An awkward segment on key shows

Fox, after receiving a legal demand letter from Smartmatic, begins airing a deposition-esque segment fact-checking various claims about the company. It would air on shows hosted by Dobbs, Bartiromo and Pirro.

Jan. 3, 2021

Shah texts with another former Trump White House aide, saying: “It’s really disheartening. The only clear cut evidence for voter fraud is the failed attempts from Trump.”

Jan. 4

Carlson says internally: “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. … I truly can’t wait.” He adds, “I hate him passionately,” and then, of Trump’s four years in office: “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”

Jan. 5

In an email to Scott, Rupert Murdoch proposes having Fox’s three prime-time hosts combine to say something to the effect of “the election is over and Joe Biden won. We are all disappointed, but it happened.” He adds that it “would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election stolen. And the basis of his 2024 campaign.” The hosts never deliver such a message.

Jan. 6: The insurrection

Trump supporters who believed the false claims of a stolen election storm the U.S. Capitol.

Jan. 12

In an email exchange with Ryan, Rupert Murdoch says, “Wake up call for Hannity, who has been privately disgusted by Trump for weeks, but was scared to lose viewers!”

Ryan responds that “the sooner we can put down the echoes of falsehoods from our side, the faster we can get onto principled loyal opposition. I truly hope our contributors, along with Tucker, Laura, and Sean get that and execute.”

Rupert Murdoch adds: “Could he still resign and get Pence to pardon, then just disappear? Would Mike Pence agree?”

Jan. 21

Rupert Murdoch reflects to Scott: “Is it ‘unarguable that high profile Fox voices fed the story that the election was stolen and that January 6th an important chance to have the result overturned’? Maybe Sean and Laura went too far. All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump but what did he tell his viewers?”

Scott asks Briganti, Wallace and others about the “unarguable” quote and asks for specifics. Briganti responds with an extensive review of how Fox’s shows covered the stolen-election claims.

Jan. 26

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell appears on Carlson’s show and says, “I’ve been all in trying to find the machine fraud, and we found it.” He also directly dares Dominion to sue: “I have the evidence. … I dare Dominion, just sue me because then it would get out faster.” Carlson doesn’t push back but says, “They are not making conspiracy theories go away by doing that.”

(In his later deposition, Rupert Murdoch acknowledged that it was “wrong” to welcome Lindell on Carlson’s show “to repeat those allegations against Dominion” if Carlson “didn’t contest it.”)