News

Did Tucker Carlson Privately Call Trump 'a Demonic Force' After the Capitol Riot?

Numerous communications were produced by Fox News to attorneys for Dominion Voting Systems as part of its $1.6 billion lawsuit against the network.

Published Feb 17, 2023

Tucker Carlson at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood on Nov. 17, 2022, in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images) (Jason Koerner/Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood on Nov. 17, 2022, in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images)

On Feb. 16, a redacted summary judgment was filed by attorneys for voting hardware and software maker Dominion Voting Systems as part of its $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News. Within the document were partial pieces of numerous communications from both on-air personalities and high-ranking employees and executives for the network who had purportedly, in apparent opposition to some of their broadcast remarks, privately cast doubt on outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump's claims that there had been massive fraud in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

One such communication published in the briefs – a text message that was sent following the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021 – showed conservative Fox host Tucker Carlson referring to Trump as being "a demonic force" and "a destroyer." He added, "But he's not going to destroy us."

According to the court filing, the text was sent to a producer of Carlson's weeknight show, "Tucker Carlson Tonight."

The full contexts in which Carlson had made these remarks were not included in the briefs, nor were full sentences or context present for some of the other comments that appeared in the documents. Fox produced the communications to Dominion's attorneys, according to the filing.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Fox responded to the news, saying, "There will be a lot of noise and confusion generated by Dominion and their opportunistic private equity owners, but the core of this case remains about freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which are fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution and protected by New York Times v. Sullivan."

We obtained additional comment from Fox as well, which is included later in this story.

Dominion's Case

Dominion laid out its case against Fox in several sections. First, the document said that Fox broadcast false information, a point that Dominion's attorneys broke into four parts:

These lies fall into four categories, each provably false at the time. Fox falsely claimed: (1) Dominion committed election fraud by rigging the 2020 Presidential Election. (2) Dominion's software and algorithms manipulated vote counts in the 2020 Presidential Election. (3) Dominion is owned by a company founded in Venezuela to rig elections for the dictator Hugo Chavez. (4) Dominion paid kickbacks to government officials who used its machines in the 2020 Presidential Election.

Dominion's attorneys then described what they alleged to be both malice and defamation on the part of some of Fox's on-air talent, claiming that the information they broadcast about Dominion differed from what they had communicated privately at the time.

'A Demonic Force'

Carlson's "demonic force" quote about Trump was one of many communications in the court filing that were highlighted on social media and in news articles.

In another communication that was sent following Election Day in 2020, the filing said that Carlson had privately communicated, "What [Trump]'s good at is destroying things. He's the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong."

This remark was an apparent reference to the idea that Fox knew some if its viewers believed the voter fraud claims espoused by Trump and didn't want to lose them to another right-wing network.

Hannity and Ingraham

The Associated Press reported that Carlson and other conservative Fox hosts including Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham had made several remarks of a similar nature about Sidney Powell, a lawyer who had previously represented Trump in a series of unsuccessful lawsuits that had been filed to contest the election outcome:

"Sidney Powell is lying," about having evidence for 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.

...

Carlson also referred to Powell in a text as an "unguided missile," and "dangerous as hell." Fellow host Laura Ingraham, meanwhile, told Carlson that Powell is "a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy," referring to former New York mayor and Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani.

Sean Hannity, meanwhile, said in a deposition "that whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second," according to Dominion's filing.

The court filing also included a list of remarks Fox hosts and employees that purportedly had been conveyed on the subject of the election fraud claims:

  • "ludicrous" –Tucker Carlson, 11/20/20 (Ex.171)
  • "totally off the rails" –Tucker Carlson, 12/24/20 (Ex.172)
  • "F'ing lunatics" –Sean Hannity, 12/22/20 (Ex.122, Hannity 321:3-14)
  • "nuts" –Dana Perino, 11/16/20 (Ex.173)
  • "complete bs" –Producer John Fawcett to Lou Dobbs, 11/27/20 (Ex.174)
  • "kooky" –Maria Bartiromo, regarding email received from Powell 11/07/20 (Ex.98, Bartiromo 141:18-24)
  • "MIND BLOWINGLY NUTS" –Raj Shah, Fox Corporation SVP, 11/21/20 (Ex.175)

Additionally, Reuters noted that Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch privately referred to Trump's election fraud claims as being "really crazy" and "damaging."

Fox's Response

In additional comment provided by email to Snopes.com, a spokesperson for Fox said that quotes in Dominion's filing had been "cherry-picked" and "stripped of key context," and that the network's public response to the briefs will be unsealed on Feb. 27:

Dominion has mischaracterized the record, cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context, and spilled considerable ink on facts that are irrelevant under black-letter principles of defamation law. 

Dominion's motion for summary judgment takes an extreme and unsupported view of defamation law and rests on an accounting of the facts that has no basis in the record. 

Unfortunately, Dominion refused to agree to allow FOX to make its response to that motion public. 

The reason for Dominion's refusal will be clear when the public response is finally released on February 27. 

Dominion's private equity owner Staple Street Capital bought the company in 2018 at an enterprise value of approximately $80 million and now seeks a $1.6 billion recovery for alleged damages to that $80 million asset.

A counterclaim unsealed by Fox on the same day as the release of Dominion's filing included the fact that Carlson had once broadcast a segment on Nov. 19, 2020, in which he questioned why Powell had not provided any documentation to support her claim that there had been voter fraud in the election.

"When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her," Carlson said. (The relevant portion of the video clip below begins at the 2:36 mark.)

A five-week trial is scheduled to begin in several weeks on April 17.

This story will be updated if further details come to light.

Note: Click these links to read Dominion's filing and Fox's counterclaim.

Sources

Chase, Randall. "Fox Hosts Didn't Believe 2020 Election Fraud Claims." The Associated Press, 16 Feb. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/technology-news-media-donald-trump-denver-business-03e8f8f052c69aebbe3f6e07b2ee7f9a.

Chen, Shawna, and Sareen Habeshian. "Fox Stars Privately Bashed Election Fraud Claims the Network Pushed." Axios, 17 Feb. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/02/17/fox-news-dominion-election-fraud.

Coster, Helen, and Jack Queen. "Fox Knew Vote Rigging Claims Were False, Dominion Says, as Network Defends Coverage." Reuters, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.reuters.com/legal/dominion-voting-systems-says-fox-knew-vote-rigging-claims-it-broadcast-were-2023-02-16/.

Darcy, Oliver. "Tucker Carlson Calls out Sidney Powell, Saying He Asked Her for Evidence to Support Her Election Fraud Claims, but 'She Never Sent Us Any Evidence despite a Lot of Requests, Polite Requests, Not a Page.'  'When We Kept Pressing She Got Angry and Told Us to Stop Contacting Her.'" Twitter, 19 Nov. 2020, https://twitter.com/oliverdarcy/status/1329595108078063619.

"Dominion Sues Trump Lawyer Sidney Powell for Defamation." The Associated Press, 8 Jan. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/dominion-lawsuit-sidney-powell-0031ce89ba24bdeae0402861e20ede69.

DOMINION'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF ITS MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON LIABILITY OF FOX NEWS NETWORK, LLC AND FOX CORPORATION. 17 Jan. 2022, https://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/23684908/2023-02-16-redacted-dominion-opening-sj-brief.pdf.

Jordan Liles is a Senior Reporter who has been with Snopes since 2016.