Two years after former President Donald Trump’s false claims about widespread election fraud sparked an attack on the U.S. Capitol, more evidence is piling up that those who spread the misinformation knew it was false.
On Thursday, the voting machine company Dominion filed court papers documenting that numerous Fox News personalities knew there was no evidence to support the claims peddled by Trump’s allies, but aired them anyway on the nation’s most-watched cable network. The same day, a special grand jury in Atlanta concluded there was no evidence of the fraud that Trump alleged cost him Georgia during the 2020 election.
In December, the congressional Jan. 6 committee disclosed that Trump’s top advisers and even family members repeatedly warned him that the allegations he was making about fraud costing him re-election were false — only to have the president continue making those claims, anyway.
The latest revelations are not just historical curiosities. They add to the wealth of evidence that there was no widespread fraud during the 2020 presidential election and that even some of Trump’s most prominent supporters were aware of that fact at the time.
Trump has announced he’s running for president again in 2024 and continues to repeat the lie that he lost in 2020 only because of fraud and irregularities.
“It demonstrates a profound cynicism about the political process and the gullibility of Trump’s supporters,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has followed the election falsehoods closely since 2020.
“It’s really playing with fire,” Hasen said. “It’s one thing to make extravagant and unsupported statements about someone’s position on taxes or immigration.” But doing the same about the actual process of voting and counting ballots is different, he said: “Lies about elections are much more dangerous than lies about actual policy.”
From the beginning, it was clear that Trump’s assertions of widespread fraud were false.
Trump’s own attorney general told him there was no evidence of significant wrongdoing related to the election. He and his supporters filed dozens of lawsuits and lost all but one of them — a bid to reduce the time voters had to correct errors on Pennsylvania mail ballots.
Trump claimed that fraud cost him wins in key swing states that determined the White House — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But, repeatedly, reviews of the vote tallies or Republican-controlled investigations in those states turned up no evidence that had happened.
In Michigan, an investigation by the GOP-controlled state Senate found no widespread fraud and debunked several false claims of irregularities from Trump allies. In Nevada, the Republican secretary of state said there was no evidence of significant errors in the election. In Wisconsin, an audit from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau — which reports to the Republican-controlled Legislature — found the election there was “safe and secure.”
In Georgia, where Trump’s efforts to overturn the results is being investigated, the 2020 ballots were counted three times — each tally confirming Biden’s win. That included a hand recount of the 5 million ballots cast in the presidential race.
In Arizona, a months-long, error-riddled review of ballots in the state’s largest county, Maricopa, that was run by election conspiracy theorists ended by finding that Biden had won by a slightly larger margin than official results showed. The review was not more reliable than the official tally by Republican-run Maricopa County, which has repeatedly said there were no irregularities in the 2020 election there.
The latest revelation that people spreading Trump’s false claims knew there was no evidence to support them comes from a court filing in a defamation suit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News. Dominion’s machines were the targets of Trump and other conspiracy theorists’ allegations in late 2020 and last year, including the contention that they had been rigged by an international cabal seeking to defeat Trump.
In its latest filing, Dominion cites texts and emails between prominent Fox personalities who did not believe the allegations or the people closest to Trump who spread them most aggressively, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and attorney Sidney Powell.
The Dominion filing alleges that the network was initially cautious about fraud claims, with its top anchor, Bret Baier, privately stating two days after the 2020 election “there is NO evidence of election fraud.”
But after Powell and Giuliani began making allegations about fraud that were picked up by conservative competitors, executives and top hosts started worrying about losing viewers to the conservative network Newsmax, which repeatedly aired unrebutted allegations from Trump’s side. Fox started inviting the two Trump allies on their shows and top executives pushed back on news reporters who tried to fact-check the allegations.
“Sidney Powell is lying” about having evidence of election fraud, Tucker Carlson told a producer about the attorney on Nov. 16, 2020, according to an excerpt from an exhibit that remains under seal. Two days later, according to the filing, Carlson told fellow Fox News host Laura Ingraham: “Our viewers are good people and they believe it.”
The next day, the lawsuit notes, Carlson addressed the issue on his show less bluntly: “Maybe Sidney Powell will come forward soon with details on exactly how this happened, and precisely who did it…. We are certainly hopeful that she will.”
Fox, in response, filed a counterclaim against Dominion alleging it was trying to chill coverage of a political controversy and that it aired denials of the allegations from Dominion and its representatives.