May 1, 2023 - Podcasts

Dominion Voting Systems shares its story

Fox News agreed last month to pay $787.5 million to voting machine company Dominion, in a lawsuit settlement related to false statements Fox made on its air about the company.

Axios’ Dan Primack did an exclusive interview with three of Dominion's key players: the company’s CEO, private equity owner, and outside attorney on the Fox case. He shares the big takeaways.

  • Plus, why Portland, Oregon residents are frustrated with the city's online crime reporting system — and how police can change that.

Guests: Axios' Dan Primack and Emily Harris.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Monday, the first of May. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Today on the show: online crime reporting leaves Portland, Oregon residents frustrated. What other cities can learn from this new research into why. But first, Dominion Voting systems shares its story of the Fox News Lawsuit. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

Dominion's key players tell the story of the Fox lawsuit

Fox News agreed last month to pay $787 and a half million to voting machine company Dominion, to settle a defamation lawsuit related to false statements about Dominion that Fox made on its air.

Well, now, Dominion is opening up about the story – Axios’s Dan Primack had an exclusive interview with the company’s CEO, private equity owner and outside attorney on the Fox case. He’s here to share what he learned from these key players – hey Dan.

DAN PRIMACK: Hey, how are you, Niala.

NIALA: Dan, so what emerges from this is really a really clear sense of the business damage that this caused Dominion. Can you give our listeners a sense of what the owners told you about that?

DAN: Sure. Uh, it, it was awful. Uh, you know, from the human standpoint, you had an employee who had a noose that got thrown onto their front yard. Uh, you had other employees who were getting specific death threats with their addresses included in this. For the private equity owner of this, he was an interesting guy. He immigrated to the US when he was five years old from Iran, and his family had left during the revolution because they were Jewish and feared persecution. He talks about how when all of this started, his parents basically showed up on his doorstep and said, you know, kind of pack your bags, we've gotta go, this is happening again. And somehow it's, you know, your fault. And obviously he talked them down, but there was real concern.

And on the pure business side, Dominion was having people break contracts early who hit, and that's something that had never happened to the company before. And they obviously had a very hard time recruiting any new employees because the name Dominion for many people was basically synonymous with treason and, and that is an extraordinarily hard hill to climb when you're trying to get people to join your company.

NIALA: Dan, what was Dominion’s business trajectory before all of this?

DAN: According to Dominion’s CEO and its private equity owner, it was doing extremely well. The company was bought in 2018 by this private equity firm, and was actually taking market share from its competitors. Once this happened though, once the election of 2020 happened and the stuff with Fox News that basically got blown up, uh, as the private equity owner said, uh, quote, our world collapsed.

NIALA: One of the reasons why this settlement may have come at the last minute is these folks told you they wanted to go to trial, right? Like, they were only engaging in the settlement because they wanted to behave in good faith and the judge had asked them to.

DAN: Correct. Yeah. They weren't looking to settle and we knew that kind of going back a year, right? You know, Fox could have settled this eight months ago or a year ago. They would've, all the stuff that came out in pretrial discovery is devastating for Fox News. Uh, arguably it led, you know, to Tucker Carlson no longer being with the network, you know, ultimately they didn't say this specifically to me, but I think you could read between the lines: Fox just, you know, finally decided to offer a huge amount of money, you know, an hour before opening arguments were supposed to start, and it would've almost been malpractice for them not to take a, a paycheck that big.

NIALA: You mentioned Tucker Carlson's departure. What's their reaction to the recent events at Fox News over the past week or so since the settlement's been announced?

DAN: So Tucker Carlson's loss of his job is not included in settlement. That's not something Dominion insisted on. It's not something Fox offered. But clearly Dominion and its lawyer believe you can draw a pretty straight line between the pretrial discovery and the settlement and Tucker Carlson's dismissal. Uh, they, they basically make the argument that, that there was momentum that got started by Dominion and again, in part Dominion insisting on kind of not settling early and getting lots of pretrial discovery out.

You have within the information we have publicly, you have all of these emails or text messages from Tucker Carlson to other people, a lot of which is redacted. There obviously is concern at Fox News about what's redacted becoming unredacted, and that possibly being embarrassing for them.

NIALA: So, Dominion has pending defamation lawsuits against One American News, Newsmax, Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Lindell, and Patrick Byrne. Did they mention Anything about all of the those lawsuits?

DAN: Just they're going to, to keep pursuing it. I, I think they believe that what happened with Fox and the way Fox ended up settling for this huge amount, kind of should be a big, blaring warning signal to those other six, that they're serious. That they're not just gonna walk away for a small amount of money or let things slide, or, you know, maybe they've had enough of this. They're gonna take this thing to the mat.

They are, for lack of a better term, they're pissed off. They, you know, they believe that they had this kind of small niche business that nobody knew, it was a boring business, right? Nobody really cares about boating machines, per se. And, and they became national pariahs. And, and, you know, the private equity owner talks about how there were conspiracy theories about him being spread online. They're angry and, and they're gonna pursue this thing.

NIALA: To the point of the settlement, 787 and a half million dollars… What are they gonna do with that money?

DAN: They don't seem to know exactly, but it seems it's gonna get dispersed among a lot of different places, right? For starters, the lawyers get a huge chunk of this. That's what plaintiff's attorneys do. Then obviously the private equity firm itself, which owns the majority stake in the company, will get a lot of that and distribute that out to its own investors.

Uh, and then a lot of people within Dominion itself are also shareholders. They'll get a piece of it. And it does sound like there will be at least some of this money that gets shared with rank and file employees who maybe don't have equity in the company. Uh, CEO John Poulos basically said, we haven't quite figured it all out yet. It, it's still pretty fresh for them. But he said, you know, that this is a settlement for all of Dominion. And, and you know, I asked, will employees get some, will shareholders get some? And he said, all of the above.

NIALA: Axios’ Dan Primack. Thanks, Dan.

DAN: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: In a moment, how police follow up on online crime reports…and why that matters.

Reporting crime online frustrates Portland residents

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I'm Niala Boodhoo. Most big cities have online reporting systems for many non-violent crimes, to cut down on calls to police and save resources. In Portland, Oregon, half of property crimes are reported this way, but new research says these reports often go nowhere and victims are feeling increasingly frustrated with the city.

Axios’ Portland reporter Emily Harris is here with why this matters. And by the way, the Axios Portland Newsletter launches today. Hi Emily. Welcome to Axios!

EMILY HARRIS: Hi. Thanks. It's great to be here.

NIALA: Can you explain for us, when we're talking about online crime reporting, what does that look like?

EMILY: So online reporting is encouraged for a number of specific crimes. They don't wanna get violent crime reports online or crimes that are going on at the moment. But a lot of the other kind of crime that really is the predominant crime that happens: Burglary, forgery, shoplifting, stealing something from a car, stealing something from a building, a house, stealing your mail, vandalism, hit and run if there's no injury. I mean, there's a lot of good reasons to do online reporting.

One, it, is more efficient for a lot of people who are reporting crime. Two, some people don't wanna call a police officer or talk to the police or have them come to their house or anything like that. Three, it is very much more efficient on the police end of things. They just get a bunch of online reports filed and can look at them when the department has time.

NIALA: And what's supposed to happen with that process when it's reported online?

EMILY: What is supposed to happen is you fill out the form, it gets sent to the police, and then in Portland they have two to three officers who are reviewing these.

If they discover some kind of leads in there or a pattern of something, Then they would alert an investigator or a detective.

But the vast majority of these kinds of crimes don't turn up any leads. And so it just gets put into the pool of crimes reported that the police bureau is tracking.

NIALA: What did the researchers say about how people feel about this system?

EMILY: What researchers found was only about 16, 17% of crime victims are satisfied with the police response to their experience when they report online.

And the biggest reason they found was that nobody actually gets in touch with them and asks them any questions, does any follow up or what most victims want, tells them what's going on.

Then based on that, they did an experiment to see if officers calling or emailing victims afterwards would make any kind of difference in that level of satisfaction with the overall response to the crime.

NIALA: And did it?

EMILY: It did, actually, they followed a specific script that was designed to express sympathy, to ask them, how they were doing, to hear more details, if they had any more details to offer about the crime and the satisfaction actually more than doubled when they did surveys after that.

NIALA: What do researchers feel are the big takeaways here? Not just for Portland and the community, but other cities that are doing online crime reporting?

EMILY: The big takeaway that these researchers found was that making that effort to connect with people in a personal manner after people report online makes a significant difference in how people feel their crime is handled. It actually doesn't have anything to do with solving the crime.

And the reason this is significant is because of frustration, certainly in Portland with the way police have been responding to increased crime has contributed to higher levels of frustration and dissatisfaction with the city government in general.

And as far as applying nationwide, I mean, the majority of especially large police agencies in the country are now using online crime reporting more and more, and so this study could have ramifications across the country.

NIALA: Axios Portland's, Emily Harris. Thanks Emily.

EMILY: Thank you.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo, thanks for listening, stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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