EXCLUSIVE: Dominion sends letters threatening defamation lawsuits to Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, and other pro-Trump media figures

Dominion Voting Systems has sent letters to Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News, warning of a defamation lawsuit.
The voting firm is at the center of a false right-wing conspiracy theory it manipulated the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The letters, dated December 22, warn the recipients to preserve documents and copies of correspondences related to Dominion.
Tom Clare, an attorney representing Dominion, told Insider it had “no choice” but to pursue legal action given how widely the false conspiracy theory about the company has spread.
He said the walk-backs from Fox News and Newsmax about Smartmatic, a rival voting technology company, weren’t good enough.
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Dominion Voting Systems has sent letters to Fox News, as well as the right-wing media outlets Newsmax and One America News, warning it may sue over the baseless conspiracy theory that the election technology company manipulated the results of the 2020 presidential election.Dominion has also sent letters to individual hosts and right-wing media figures, including Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and Maria Bartiromo, as well as Rush Limbaugh and Newsmax host Greg Kelly. The letters have been reviewed by Insider.”We write regarding patently false accusations that Dominion has somehow rigged or otherwise improperly influenced the recent U.S. Presidential election — accusations that you have featured on your programming and that you yourself have also echoed,” the letter to Hannity reads.It demands that he “cease and desist making defamatory claims against Dominion” and “retain all documents relating to Dominion and your smear campaign against the company” and warns that “litigation regarding these issues is imminent.” The other letters feature similar language.

The letters, dated December 22, warn the recipients to preserve documents and copies of correspondence related to Dominion. The company is at the center of a conspiracy theory that it has secret ties to the rival election tech company Smartmatic, as well as the regime of the now-dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, and developed technology to secretly flip votes from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden.”We have put Fox and Newsmax and OAN on notice that we have claims, and that we are evaluating those claims, and that we’re intending to pursue those claims,” Dominion attorney Tom Clare told Insider in an interview Wednesday night. “We want to make sure that not only are they preserving documents, but they’re not doubling down on these same allegations.”The letters to individual media figures obtained by Insider are the latest detail in the looming defamation litigation. The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that Dominion would send the letters to the media companies.Clare told Insider that Dominion had “no choice” but to pursue legal action given how widely the false conspiracy theory about the company has spread on right-wing news outlets and on social media. The company has been forced to hire private security to protect its employees against death threats.

“On cable news, and on Twitter, and YouTube videos — there isn’t a way to have the truth fairly adjudicated. There are no winners and losers, it’s just people yelling at each other,” Clare told Insider. “The only thing we’re trying to do is to expose the truth. If we have a court case, there are rules, there’s a process, there’s evidence. And at the end, there’s a verdict.”Dominion also issued letters against other allies of Trump and Sidney PowellDominion has gone on the offensive in recent weeks, going after Sidney Powell, the former Trump campaign lawyer who filed four failed federal lawsuits propagating the conspiracy theory.Since initially pushing the theory in November, Powell has become a fixture on OAN and Newsmax, and has been an occasional guest on Fox News.Dominion has also issued letters to some of the proclaimed witnesses in her lawsuits, including:

It has also sent a letter to Lin Wood, another attorney and ally of Powell and Trump.

Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Powell has declined to retract her statements about Dominion. Clare told Insider that Dominion’s legal action against her would move forward.”If she doesn’t retract the statements — which she’s already said she won’t — then we’re going to move forward with defamation litigation against Sidney Powell,” Clare said.

Dominion has also sent letters to the Epoch Times, another influential right-wing media outlet, with an extensive demand for retractions. And to Mellissa Carone, a Michigan resident whom Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has falsely touted as a witness to voter fraud.”Without a shred of corroborating evidence, you have claimed that you witnessed several different versions of voter fraud — ranging from one story involving a van, to other accusations that votes were counted multiple times,” the letter to Carone reads. “You published these statements even though you knew all along that your attacks on Dominion have no basis in reality.”Insider reported Wednesday that Dominion also sent a document preservation letter to Giuliani, who has spread elements as the same conspiracy theory even as he has sought to distance himself from Powell. Dominion also sent a document preservation letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks at the Republican National Committee headquarters, Thursday Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

“We want Giuliani to preserve documents because he, of course, has been involved in many of these conversations,” Clare told Insider. “We are looking very seriously at Giuliani’s out of court statements that he has made, because he has made any of the same false and damaging allegations as Sidney Powell.”

Fox News’s approach to Smartmatic won’t cut itA representative for Fox News directed Insider to an interview host Eric Shawn performed with an engineering professor who studied Dominion’s technology and said it was “physically impossible” for their technology to switch votes. The representative also pointed to a clip of host Tucker Carlson demonstrating skepticism about Sidney Powell.Earlier this month, Smartmatic, the rival election technology company, sent retraction demands to Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN.Fox News aired a clip of an off-screen interviewer speaking with an elections expert who said there was no link between Smartmatic and Dominion, and no evidence that Smartmatic participated in malfeasance.Newsmax had one of its hosts contradict the media organization’s previous coverage of Smartmatic and made a similar post on its website, calling it a clarification.

OAN didn’t respond publicly. Representatives for OAN didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.Dominion has also sent retraction demands to the media organizations in letters obtained by Insider.When asked if Dominion would be satisfied if Fox News and Newsmax took the same approach toward them, Clare laughed and said “No.””If you accuse somebody falsely on a prime time slot or in the host’s own voice, or in a 10-minute segment, then you need to have equal prominence and equal dignity into the retraction and apology,” he said.

Host Maria Bartiromo on the Fox Business Network.

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

In a second letter to Newsmax, Clare called Newsmax’s actions “deficient” and pointed out that previous videos and articles with false claims continued to circulate online.

“We are disappointed that Newsmax continues to publish lies about US Dominion Inc. despite our December 18, 2020 retraction demand,” the letter reads. “Instead of retracting the false statements about Dominion — as detailed in our last letter — Newsmax instead decided to double down on its libel while simultaneously claiming to ‘clarify’ its news coverage.”Clare told Insider that retractions must be made with the same prominence as the original false claim. As an example, he pointed to a 1998 defamation case with the Cincinnati Enquirer, which he pursued while working as an attorney for the law firm Kirkland & Ellis. The Enquirer had to retract claims they made in an investigative story about Chiquita, the banana company, and published that retraction on the paper’s front page.Clare said he keeps a copy of that front page hanging on his office wall as a trophy.

Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

He said that if the news outlets would issue a full-blown retraction now, it would be “at least a good first step,” but “too little, too late.”

“Here we are in late December, two months after the election almost,” he said. “So much of the damage has already been done.”Clare also drew a distinction between Tucker Carlson, who has pushed back against the conspiracy theory, and hosts who have not. Hannity, Dobbs, and Bartiromo have either hosted Powell on their show without pushing back against her claims, or repeated elements of the theory herself.”There certainly have been on-air personalities at Fox that have in our view done the right thing. Tucker Carlson has said there is no evidence, these are not reliable allegations, these are not reliable people who are making these allegations, and it’s irresponsible to put them on the air,” he said.”There have been other personalities on Fox that have disregarded that,” he added.

‘Playing the long game’Dominion and Smartmatic must also navigate the tricky political dynamics of telling the truth. Polls show that around 75% of Republicans believe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected president. Part of that belief can be attributed to false claims about voting technology.Going against right-wing media organizations and individuals risks incurring the president’s wrath. Trump himself has driven the false conspiracy theory that election results were secretly manipulated. Many of them are also friends of the president, like Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, who also received a letter.Smartmatic has only a small footprint in the United States — it worked with only one county in the November 2020 election.But Dominion serves states and counties across the country. It must demonstrate that its technology is trustworthy to get contracts renewed for future elections. Yet elected conservative figures may risk opposition from their base — and Trump’s Twitter feed — if they work with the company.

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, December 12, 2020.

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Clare said Dominion is “playing the long game,” evaluating each claim carefully, assessing the state of mind of potential defendants, and researching the relevant jurisdictions before going through with each lawsuit. The document preservation letters are meant to ensure that evidence is locked down for when the company issues subpoenas during litigation.

“We are in the process of making those decisions about where people have not done the right thing,” he said. “And if the judgment is that they haven’t done the right thing, and we have the legally actionable claim, we’re gonna bring it.”Legal ethics experts have previously told Insider that both Powell and Giuliani were at risk of court sanctions for pushing the false election conspiracy theories.Dominion CEO John Poulos told CNN Thursday that the company would not rule out taking legal action against Trump himself.Clare told Insider he has little regard for the political dynamics. He said that he believes people across the political spectrum can understand that integrity is important and that Dominion is trying to do right by its reputation. His law firm, Clare Locke LLP, specializes in defamation and has also represented major right-wing figures like Sarah Palin and Kimberly Guilfoyle.

“The ‘how do we get to curry favor with people’ — we’re really not playing that game,” he said. “We are so badly damaged by [the false claims], the only thing that we can do is try to vindicate ourselves through the court system.”This article has been updated.

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