Fox hosts didn't believe Trump election fraud claims, text messages in Dominion's lawsuit show

Here’s everything we know about the $1.6 billion defamation case ahead of trial, which begins in April.

Tucker Carlson, center, with Donald Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Fox News anchors were aware that the 2020 election conspiracy theories touted by then-President Donald Trump were bogus even as they repeatedly broadcast the false claims, court records in a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems against the cable news giant show.

Emails, text messages and other testimony from Fox News personalities revealed in a 192-page filing by Dominion on Thursday show on-air personalities privately casting doubt on Trump’s claims that Dominion's voting machines were rigged in Joe Biden’s favor.

The communications are part of Dominion’s $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox News, originally filed last year, which seeks to prove that the network either knew the statements it aired were false or recklessly disregarded their accuracy.

Here’s everything we know about the messages and lawsuit ahead of the trial, which is scheduled to begin on April 17.

What the messages say

Laura Ingraham

The network’s primetime hosts, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, privately dismissed Trump campaign lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, who were pushing voter fraud claims without evidence.

“Sidney Powell is lying,” Carlson wrote to Ingraham on Nov. 18, 2020. “I caught her. It’s insane.”

“Sidney is a complete nut,” Ingraham responded. “No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”

“It’s unbelievably offensive to me,” Carlson replied. “Our viewers are good people and they believe it.”

Carlson also referred to Powell as an “unguided missile” and “dangerous as hell.”

“That whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second," Hannity said in a deposition, according to Dominion's filing. “Nobody ever convinced me that their argument was anywhere near accurate or true.”

In a text message, Hannity described Powell as an “F’ing lunatic.”

“Really crazy stuff. And damaging,” Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch wrote in an email on Nov. 19 regarding claims Giuliani was making on Fox News.

Dana Perino, another Fox anchor, called allegations of voter fraud against Dominion “total bs,” “insane” and “nonsense,” the text messages and emails show.

Fears of angering Trump — and losing viewers

Sean Hannity
Fox host Sean Hannity speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in August 2022. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The messages included in the filing reveal panic among the hosts over the network being the first to project that Biden would win Arizona, which angered Trump.

“He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong,” Carlson wrote in a text message to his producer two days after the election. “What [Trump is] good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that.”

Carlson and Hannity were incensed that Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich fact-checked a Trump tweet that included false claims about Dominion.

“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised,” Heinrich wrote in a tweet.

“Please get her fired. Seriously ... What the [f***]?” Carlson texted Ingraham and Hannity on Nov. 12, 2020. “It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

Hannity responded by saying he had already spoken to Fox CEO Suzanne Scott, who relayed the message to other top executives that Heinrich “has serious nerve doing this” and warning that Fox viewers were going to be “further disgusted” with the network.

What Dominion is saying

A Dominion voting machine
A Dominion voting machine processing votes in Phoenix, Nov. 9, 2022. (Jon Cherry/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“Fox knew. From the top down, Fox knew ‘the Dominion stuff’ was ‘total BS,’” attorneys for Denver-based Dominion said. “Yet despite knowing the truth — or at minimum, recklessly disregarding that truth — Fox spread and endorsed these ‘outlandish voter fraud claims’ about Dominion even as it internally recognized the lies as ‘crazy,’ ‘absurd,’ and ‘shockingly reckless.’ The colorful choices of words used by so many Fox employees all try to capture the same basic truth about these inherently improbable allegations: These claims were false, and obviously so.

“Broadcasters make choices about what to air. While that platform comes with tremendous power, it also carries an obligation to tell the truth,” Dominion’s lawyers continued. “Fox knew the truth, knew the allegations against Dominion were outlandish and crazy and ludicrous and nuts. Yet it used the power and influence of its platform to promote that false story.”

What Fox News is saying

Fox News headquarters in New York City
Fox News headquarters in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/File)

“There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion,” Fox News said in a statement, “but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution.”

In a counterclaim, also unsealed Thursday, attorneys for the cable news giant argued that the network was simply “reporting on one of the biggest stories of the day — allegations by the sitting President of the United States and his surrogates that the 2020 election was affected by fraud. The very fact of those allegations was newsworthy.”

“According to Dominion, [Fox News Network] had a duty not to truthfully report the President’s allegations but to suppress them or denounce them as false,” Fox’s attorneys wrote. “Dominion is fundamentally mistaken. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press would be illusory if the prevailing side in a public controversy could sue the press for giving a forum to the losing side.”

“Dominion has come nowhere close to producing the ‘clear and convincing’ evidence that the relevant individuals at Fox News made or published any challenged statement with actual malice,” the attorneys added.

What legal experts say

A protester holds up a sign outside Fox News headquarters
A protester holds up a sign outside Fox News headquarters in June 2022. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The case is being argued before Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric M. Davis, who ruled last month that for the purposes of the defamation claims, he will consider Dominion to be a public figure.

According to the law, that means Dominion must prove “actual malice” by showing that the network and its hosts either knew the statements it aired were false or recklessly disregarded the truth.

“The critical issue here is the state of mind of Fox and those individual people,” Floyd Abrams, one of the country’s leading experts on First Amendment law, told ABC News. “What did they say about Dominion, and did they believe it? In order for Dominion to win, it has to show that what was said was not just false, but that it was known or suspected to be false."

“This filing argues a fire hose of direct evidence of knowing falsity,” RonNell Andersen Jones, a professor of law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, told the New York Times. “It gives a powerful preview of one of the best-supported claims of actual malice we have seen in any major-media case.”