On Nov. 30, 2020, Sean Hannity hosted Sidney Powell on his prime-time Fox News program. As she had in many other interviews around that time — on Fox and elsewhere in right-wing media — Ms. Powell, a former federal prosecutor, spun wild conspiracy theories about what she said was “corruption all across the country, in countless districts,” in a plot to steal re-election from the president, Donald J. Trump.
At the center of this imagined plot were machines from Dominion Voting Systems, which Ms. Powell claimed ran an algorithm that switched votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr. Dominion machines, she insisted, were being used “to trash large batches of votes.”
Mr. Hannity interrupted her with a gentle question that had been circulating among election deniers, despite a lack of supporting proof: Why were Democrats silencing whistle-blowers who could prove this fraud?
Did Mr. Hannity believe any of this?
“I did not believe it for one second.”
That was the answer Mr. Hannity gave, under oath, in a deposition in Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, according to information disclosed in a court hearing on Wednesday. The hearing was called to address several issues that need to be resolved before the case heads for a jury trial, which the judge has scheduled to begin in April.
Mr. Hannity’s disclosure — along with others that emerged from court on Wednesday about what Fox News executives and hosts really believed as their network became one of the loudest megaphones for lies about the 2020 election — is among the strongest evidence yet to emerge publicly that some Fox employees knew that what they were broadcasting was false.
The high legal standard of proof in defamation cases makes it difficult for a company like Dominion to prevail against a media organization like Fox News. Dominion has to persuade a jury that people at Fox were, in effect, saying one thing in private while telling their audience exactly the opposite. And that requires showing a jury convincing evidence that speaks to the state of mind of those who were making the decisions at the network.