The president of far-right media outlet One America News Network allegedly sent a Donald Trump-linked lawyer a spreadsheet that claimed to contain passwords belonging to employees of a voting technology company that is now suing the network for defamation.
In the volatile aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, OAN president Charles Herring appeared to send the document to Trump-connected attorney and election conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, who promoted baseless claims about the electoral process and voting machine companies on-air while pursuing spurious legal efforts to reverse Mr Trump’s loss.
OAN executives “may have engaged in criminal activities” by violating state and federal data privacy laws, according to lawyers from voting technology company Smartmatic, which is suing the network, Fox News, Ms Powell and other Trump allies for billions of dollars in damages for promoting bogus claims that the company’s software flipped votes to rig President Joe Biden’s victory.
Court filings reviewed by CNN in three separate cases involving the company do not reveal how the network obtained the spreadsheet or whether the passwords were authentic, but a sworn affidavit from the lead attorney for Smartmatic claims the exchange is between a member of OAN’s “executive team” and “an individual who has already pled guilty to crimes relating to the 2020 election.”
Ms Powell separately pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from a sweeping election interference investigation in Georgia, where Ms Powell breached voting software in the state’s Coffee County – one day before Mr Herring allegedly sent her the spreadsheet at the centre of the Smartmatic case.
“OAN denies that its executive team ‘may have engaged in criminal activities.’ This vague accusation is a clumsy attempt to smear OAN and to divert attention from Smartmatic’s own misconduct,” according to a statement to CNN provided by OAN lawyer Charles Babcock, who alleges that a former election official from the Philippines took bribes from Smartmatic. The company and the ex-official have denied those claims.
Smartmatic’s $2.7bn defamation lawsuit against the Fox empire accuses the company of maliciously providing a platform for bogus false claims about its software, echoing claims in a blockbuster defamation case against the network from voting machines company Dominion Voting Systems.
That case resulted in an historic $787m settlement, reached moments before a trial was due to start in a Delaware courtroom last year.
Last week, a judge in New York allowed Smartmatic’s case to proceed to trial, likely later this year.
The judge determined that Smartmatic has “sufficiently alleged that [Fox Corporation] employees acted with malice by purposely and [deliberately] publishing knowingly false stories” to benefit the media company’s “financial interest”.
Fox attorneys have argued that Smartmatic’s defamation claims are meritless and intended to chill First Amendment press freedoms.
Last year, OAN settled a parallel defamation suit from Dominion executive Eric Coomer, whose case revealed how the network worked closely with Ms Powell and other Trump allies to spread false claims about the 2020 election.
Dominion is set to go to trial against another right-wing network, Newsmax, later this year, on similar grounds.