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‘I’m not sure what to think’: Fox uses Maria Bartiromo’s persistent doubts about election as defense in Dominion lawsuit

Maria Bartiromo

Maria Bartiromo (Screenshot via Fox News)

Fox News host Maria Bartiromo didn’t knowingly lie about Dominion Voting Systems swinging the election for President Joe Biden because she still entertains Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories “to this day,” the network said in a new defense brief.

“I’m not sure what to think,” Bartiromo wrote in an email to Dominion’s chief spokesman Salvatore “Tony” Fratto on Nov. 20, 2020.

Bartiromo’s ambivalence has endured, as the host “expressed uncertainty even to this day about what exactly happened in the election,” Fox News says. Dominion has been pursuing a $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox, which is readying for a trial date in April. The network’s evidence of Bartiromo’s state of mind goes to the legal standard of actual malice, which would force Dominion to prove that Bartiromo either knowingly lied or acted with reckless disregard for the truth in airing 2020 election conspiracy theories.

To make that argument, Fox has unearthed Bartiromo’s communications with Fratto, a partner at the heavyweight PR shop Hamilton Place Strategies. The network’s multi-pronged argument is that Bartiromo had been on the fence about Trump’s theories, invited Dominion on the air to tell its side, and pushed back on conspiracy theory peddler Sidney Powell after being pressed.

In a series of emails attached as exhibits to their latest brief, Fox unveiled Bartiromo’s emails with Fratto, who appeared at one point to praise the host’s pushback.

“I saw the interview snd [sic] i know that everyone who questions Powell is being attacked – I hope it’s not too crazy,” Fratto wrote on Nov. 20, 2020. “I truly don’t understand why she believes this Venezuela connection. It’s just not at all true snd [sic] never has been. It’s so weird.”

A day later, Bartiromo offered to put Dominion’s CEO on the air. Fratto gave an exasperated reply about Powell’s conspiracy theories.

“Do you want me to have dominion ceo on?” Bartiromo wrote, noting that Powell was “pushing on this.”

Less than a half-hour later, Fratto fired off a response.

“The only relevant evidence is that the machines worked, again, everywhere they’re being used,” Fratto wrote on Nov. 21, 2020, before turning to Powell. “This woman is harassing employees and they’re getting death threats. That’s why they’re protecting they’re [sic] LinkedIn accounts.”

“This is madness,” Fratto added.

Less than a week after the email exchange, Dominion started publicly disclosing the death threats against its employees. Dominion employees described threats on their lives in litigation.

The emails also suggest that Bartiromo and Fratto have a long journalist-source history. Roughly a week before this exchange, Fratto expressed his admiration for Bartiromo, whose storied career in broadcast dates back decades to her time as an executive producer at CNN Business. Bartiromo broke boundaries as a female journalist in a typically male-dominated field of financial journalism at CNBC, the network she called home from 1993 to 2013, when she moved to Fox Business.

During the Trump era, many criticized Bartiromo’s “softball” interviews of the former president and seeming embrace of his conspiracy theories.

Fratto told Bartiromo that Powell’s theories were beneath a journalist of her caliber.

“Maria – you know how much I admire you, personally and professionally,” Fratto wrote on Nov. 16, 2020. “More than admire – you are my friend and I’m not questioning your ethics or judgement. What Rudy is saying is verifiably false, and the same for Sidney Powell — it’s tinfoil hat conspiracy stuff. And I think they need strong pushback with facts. I’m not saying you should ignore the story, but Rudy is literally making things up as he goes.”

Bartiromo noted that certain Democrats complained about Dominion software in the past.

Fratto said that the bipartisan criticism proved his point.

“This company is NOT owned by or a tool of ‘radical leftists’ — if they were, the radical leftists wouldn’t have come after them last time,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Delaware Superior Judge Eric M. Davis prepared for the trial, currently slated for April 17, 2023. He said that he wouldn’t sequester the jury, but he would seek to limit their access to outside information about the case. The court is sending out 1,800 jury notices, accompanied by a letter informing them that the trial is expected to last six weeks.

The judge made clear, however, that he isn’t interested in potential jurors’ politics.

“The issue in this case is whether Fox News or Fox Corp defamed Dominion,” he said.

Judge Davis scheduled a separate hearing for arguments on summary judgment motions on March 21. During that hearing, Dominion will argue that the evidence is so strong that a trial wouldn’t be necessary for them to prevail. Fox will argue that they are so weak that they shouldn’t make it to trial.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."