Newsmax Staffers Hit With Subpoenas in 2020 Election Defamation Suit

Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News laid bare how the network communicated behind the scenes about broadcasting 2020 election misinformation, ultimately leading the network to fork over a massive settlement. Newsmax could be next, as voting-technology company Smartmatic has subpoenaed several of the right-wing cable network’s current and former employees for work and personal correspondence.

Several Newsmax insiders, who spoke with Rolling Stone under a condition of anonymity due to a fear of reprisal, said that roughly three weeks ago they were told to hand over “mirror images of their personal cellphone, personal email, and iCloud,” as Smartmatic’s lawsuit against the network moves forward.

Smartmaric’s attorney J. Erik Connolly, managing chair of the litigation practice group at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan, & Aronoff, LLC, tells Rolling Stone: “Smartmatic intends to pursue discovery from the current and former Newsmax employees who participated in the egregious disinformation campaign against the company. Some of the discovery has come, and will come, from the company.  Smartmatic is pursuing these individuals to get the rest.  Our complaint does not numerically specify the amount of damages we have suffered.”

Smartmatic claims in its lawsuit that Newsmax knowingly pushed falsehoods about the company following the 2020 presidential election. “Newsmax published and/or republished false statements and implications during news broadcasts, in online reports, and on social media that ‘Smartmatic participated in a criminal conspiracy’ to fix, rig, and steal the Election,” the defamation suit alleges.

Newsmax, which did not return Rolling Stone’s request for comment, initially pushed back on the Smartmatic defamation suit with a countersuit claiming it was an intimidation tactic. However, in February 2023, Smartmatic’s case was permitted to proceed, and Newsmax staffers are now being asked to hand over pertinent material.

Dominion earlier this year submitted multiple court filings with pertinent communications from Fox News executives and talent, revealing with damning detail how major players at the network knew they were pushing lies about the election. Rupert Murdoch testified that hosts “endorsed” the false idea that the election was stolen. Tucker Carlson texted that Trump allies were “lying” and that the network’s viewers “believed” it. Suzanne Scott, Fox News’ CEO, emailed about how fact-checking bogus fraud claims was “bad for business.”

The filings backed Fox News into a corner ahead of a highly anticipated trial during which key network figures were expected to testify. The network opted to settle with Dominion on the eve of the trial, paying the company $787 million to avoid more public embarrassment. Carlson was ousted from the network days later, with his departure reportedly being set in motion by a racist text message collected as part of Dominion’s lawsuit.

The Newsmax staffers who have been slapped with subpoenas for their texts and emails are not happy, telling Rolling Stone that the company has threatened to fire them if they don’t comply with the subpoenas. “Originally, when Newsmax asked us to do this, they said it wasn’t compulsory, but now, due to the subpoena, if we don’t comply they have threatened our jobs,” one employee laments. “They basically said that if we don’t hand it over it prevents them from sufficiently being able to defend themselves in court, which in turn could be seen as hurting the company, which is grounds for potential termination.”

“This is a civil lawsuit between two corporations,” the employee adds. “At no point should our personal data come into play. This goes beyond a violation of privacy. It is an invasion.”

It’s a common sentiment among the network’s staff. “Many of us don’t believe it’s right to give our employer access to all of our personal privacy when we had nothing to do with the decision-making process,” says another staffer. “It’s a major violation of privacy.”

But one network insider, who confirms the Smartmatic subpoenas were given to several Newsmax staffers, rebuffs the frustrations of some employees. “It’s no secret Smartmatic would issue subpoenas for all of those communications,” they say. “A court order is a court order, and Newsmax would be in no position to tell employees, ‘No, you don’t have to comply.’  They must comply if they’ve been subpoenaed. Newsmax would have no choice but to fire them if they don’t comply with a court order.”

Attorney Jasmine Rand, a counsel for the Baez Law Firm in Florida who manages the firm’s civil division and practices employment-discrimination law, agrees that Newsmax employees do not have much of a choice but to turn over the requested items subpoenaed by Smartmatic. “If Newsmax is compelling employees to produce mirror images of their personal emails and cellphones in response to a subpoena or court order, and threatening to fire them unless they comply, unfortunately employees have little recourse but to challenge the underlying subpoena.”

Smartmatic’s lawsuit is one of several defamation suits filed against purveyors of the false idea that the 2020 election was rigged against Trump. The media entities and individuals allied with Trump needed to blame someone for what they alleged was a plot to subvert the democratic process, and voting-machine companies were a common culprit. Smartmatic was fingered by election deniers even though the company provided services only in Los Angeles County, and the company is suing Fox News and OANN, in addition to Newsmax.

Dominion provided services in contested states, and has sued Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN, former Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and conspiracy-theorizing pillow salesman Mike Lindell. The company’s settlement with Fox News was a landmark victory in the effort to hold misinformation peddlers accountable, exposing the extent to which the network knew it was lying to its millions of viewers.

Newsmax staffers are understandably nervous that their texts, emails, and other correspondence may, too, become part of the public record. There may not be much they can do about it.

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