Fox News' Sean Hannity set to be deposed as part of billion-dollar election lawsuit

Dominion Voting Systems alleges that Fox News pushed false conspiracy theories.

ByOlivia Rubin ABC logo
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
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Fox News host Sean Hannity, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, is set to be deposed on Wednesday as part of a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit against his network.

The $1.6 billion dollar suit was filed against Fox News last March by the voting machine company Dominion, which was at the center of numerous unproven conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election.

According to the lawsuit's court docket, Hannity's deposition would be the latest in a string of scheduled depositions of some of Fox's biggest names. Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Jeannine Pirro were scheduled to be deposed last week, and former Fox Business host Lou Dobbs was scheduled for earlier this week according to the docket, though it has not been confirmed if those depositions occurred.

Experts say the depositions could be "potentially very important," and that they could play a key role in the direction of the case moving forward.

"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," said Abrams, who has argued over a dozen cases before the Supreme Court.

In its complaint against Fox, Dominion alleges that the network pushed "outlandish, defamatory, and far-fetched" accusations that the voting company had rigged the 2020 election in order to "lure back viewers" so it could boost ratings and make a profit.

"Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion the process," Dominion said in its complaint.

In a statement, a Fox News spokesperson said, "We are confident we will prevail as freedom of the press is foundational to our democracy and must be protected, in addition to the damages claims being outrageous, unsupported, and not rooted in sound financial analysis, serving as nothing more than a flagrant attempt to deter our journalists from doing their jobs."

Dan Webb, an attorney who was recently added to Fox's legal team, has also said that Fox News was simply doing its duty by reporting on the allegations.

"There are very few events in the last 50 years in this country that I think are more newsworthy than our president alleging that our entire Democratic system was put on its head by a voting machine company stealing votes," Webb told The Washington Post.

A Dominion spokesperson declined to comment.

Roy Gutterman, an expert on free speech at Syracuse's Newhouse School of Public Communications, said depositions in these kinds of cases can get heated.

"I wouldn't be surprised if eventually they get down to some very blunt questions: Did you know these statements you were putting on the air were false? What kinds of information were you basing that on?" Gutterman said.

"No one's going into this deposition without being thoroughly prepared," said Gutterman. "There will be lawyers from both sides of the room, and it can get pretty rancorous, but you have to answer the questions."

The Fox News suit is part of a string of lawsuits Dominion has filed against those it says helped push false accusations that it helped sway the election -- a group that includes several of Trump's close allies.

Efforts by attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell to have the lawsuits against them thrown out were denied by a judge last summer.

Powell, who promised to "release the Kraken" in what turned out to be a series of unsuccessful legal challenges alleging voter fraud, had argued that that "no reasonable person" would have believed her theories were "truly statements of fact."

After Dominion's suit against Giuliani was filed last January, he called it "another act of intimidation by the hate-filled left-wing to wipe out and censor the exercise of free speech, as well as the ability of lawyers to defend their clients vigorously."

At the first public hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, former Attorney General Bill Barr said in a clip played by the committee that the baseless allegations that Dominion machines switched votes from Joe Biden to Trump were "complete nonsense" and "amongst the most disturbing."

"I told them it was crazy stuff and they were wasting their time on it, and they were doing a great disservice to the country," Barr said of the Dominion conspiracy theories. "I saw absolutely zero basis for the allegations, but they were made in such a sensational way that they obviously were influencing a lot of people."