CNN  — 

In the wake of the 2020 election, the president of the far-right network One America News sent a potentially explosive email to former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, with a spreadsheet claiming to contain passwords of employees from the voting technology company Smartmatic, according to court filings.

The existence of the spreadsheet was recently disclosed by Smartmatic, which is suing OAN for defamation. CNN pieced together who was involved in the email exchanges by examining court records from three separate cases stemming from the 2020 election.

Lawyers from Smartmatic told a federal judge that the email, and the attached spreadsheet, suggest OAN executives “may have engaged in criminal activities” because they “appear to have violated state and federal laws regarding data privacy.”

The court records don’t say how OAN obtained the spreadsheet, or whether the supposed Smartmatic passwords were authentic. Nobody from OAN has been charged with any crimes. But it came at a time when OAN, Powell and others in their orbit were aggressively peddling false claims that there was massive voter fraud in 2020, and that Smartmatic was to blame.

According to court filings, the supposed passwords were shared around the same time that Powell, her associates and other Trump supporters were trying to improperly access voting systems across the country, to prove their false claims of voter fraud.

The January 8, 2021, email exchange between OAN President Charles Herring and Powell has recently emerged as a flashpoint in Smartmatic’s defamation lawsuit against the pro-Trump network. The email isn’t public, but Smartmatic revealed some of its contents in a public filing after obtaining the materials in the discovery process.

While Smartmatic’s public filings didn’t identify the sender or recipient of the email, court records from a separate 2020-related lawsuit confirm that Herring and Powell exchanged emails on the same date. The pair’s communications about the purported Smartmatic spreadsheet, which have not been previously reported, resurrect questions that have dogged OAN for years regarding its tendency to blur the lines between opinion journalism and brazen political advocacy.

Baseless 2020 smears

Smartmatic has sued OAN, Powell, and other Trump allies and right-wing outlets, seeking billions of dollars in damages for their 2020 election lies. After former President Donald Trump lost the election, they spread baseless claims that election software from Smartmatic and another company flipped millions of votes from Trump to Joe Biden.

OAN and Powell are fighting the defamation cases and deny wrongdoing.

“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,” OAN lawyer Charles Babcock said in a statement.

Babcock pointed to federal charges filed against a former top election official from the Philippines, who allegedly took bribes from Smartmatic. They both deny the allegations.

Powell separately pleaded guilty in October to six misdemeanor crimes in Georgia’s sweeping election subversion case, stemming from her role in the conspiracy to breach voting software in Coffee County. That breach occurred one day before Herring allegedly sent her the spreadsheet.

Powell and the other Trump allies involved in the breaches wanted to examine the systems to corroborate their fraud theories - which she was simultaneously promoting on OAN, Fox News and Newsmax, despite being told that their claims were baseless.

They undertook those efforts after Trump rebuffed wild proposals from Powell and others to sign an executive order directing the military to seize voting machines.

Potential ‘criminal activities’

The revelations were surfaced by Smartmatic as part of an effort to convince the judge in its case against OAN that the network is withholding key documents in the discovery process.

“Discovery from the (OAN) executive team is critical to establishing actual malice because the (OAN) executive team may have engaged in criminal activities to further the election fraud claims generally and Smartmatic fraud claims specifically,” Smartmatic lawyers wrote in a December court filing that mentioned the spreadsheet.

The company’s lawyers further alleged that, “discovery to date has also uncovered that certain members of the (OAN) executive team appear to have violated state and federal laws regarding data privacy in connection with promoting election fraud claims.”

Smartmatic’s top attorney, Erik Connolly, said in a sworn affidavit that the email exchange with the spreadsheet was among “members of the (OAN) executive team” and “an individual who has already pled guilty to crimes relating to the 2020 election.”

CNN has not independently reviewed the emails or the spreadsheet. It’s unclear if the spreadsheet has any connections to the breach in rural Coffee County - which used software from Dominion Voting Systems, and not Smartmatic, in the 2020 election.

Herring and an attorney for Powell did not provide a comment for this story.

Fringe far-right network

OAN has established itself as perhaps the most extreme of the pro-Trump news outlets. And its reporters have sometimes crossed the line into right-wing politicking.

The little-watched network regularly gives airtime to baseless conspiracy theories that support Trump. The channel even worked closely with Russian operatives on a propaganda-style documentary during Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 over allegations he pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. One of its correspondents, who is also an attorney, even worked with Trump’s legal team to subvert the 2020 election results.

Another recent court filing in a related case suggests that Herring’s father, OAN founder Robert Herring, later sent the same or a similar spreadsheet to MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has championed the false claim that Smartmatic and Dominion rigged the 2020 election.

The filing, from an ex-Dominion employee, says Robert Herring forwarded an email to Lindell that originated from his son, Charles, and that it contained “password information for employees of several voting systems providers.” The filing, from a defamation case against Lindell, said Charles Herring emailed those materials to Lindell in April 2022.

An attorney for Lindell didn’t respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The network, the two Herrings, and some of their on-air personalities are also being sued for defamation by Dominion, which was the target of similar 2020 election lies.

OAN settled a defamation suit in September with former Dominion executive Eric Coomer, whose case revealed how the network worked closely with Powell and others to lie about the election. DirecTV has also dropped the far-right network from its lineup, dealing a significant blow to the outlet, hitting the network’s viewership and revenue.

CNN’s Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.