Roger Ailes hasn’t been chairman of Fox News since last July, but the company continues to deal with issues raised during his tenure at the top of the Murdoch-owned conservative broadcaster, including multiple sexual-harassment claims that helped lead to his departure.
According to new information that emerged on Wednesday, federal investigators may be looking into payments that Fox News made in order to settle some of Ailes’ harassment cases, and whether those payments were disclosed properly.
This revelation came to light during a hearing in New York’s Supreme Court in an ongoing lawsuit filed by former Fox News host Andrea Tantaros alleging harassment by Ailes. A lawyer for Tantaros said that one of his clients had been served with a subpoena by federal prosecutors investigating the sexual-harassment claims against the former Fox chairman.
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Attorney Judd Burstein said he got the subpoena from federal investigators at the Department of Justice’s New York Southern District, and that it requested testimony from his client before a grand jury. Burstein said that he believes the investigation centers around whether Fox News violated securities laws by not reporting harassment settlements.
In addition to the payment allegations, Tantaros’ lawyer said that he also had “compelling evidence” that Fox News engaged in electronic surveillance of the former Fox host’s personal email and other accounts. A number of Fox employees said in the wake of Ailes’ departure that they believed their phone calls and other activities were monitored by the Fox chairman.
For many observers, these claims bring back memories of the revelations surrounding News Corp. (NWS), the predecessor to 21st Century Fox (FOX), which was accused in 2012 of hacking into employees’ email and phone records at British newspapers owned by the Murdoch-controlled company.
A Fox News lawyer told the judge on Wednesday that the network hasn’t received any subpoena. But a spokesperson for the network later acknowledged that Fox has been in communication with the U.S. Attorney’s office for months, and went on to say the company has co-operated “and will continue to cooperate on all inquiries with any interested authorities.”
Ailes’ departure from the chairmanship of Fox News was triggered by a lawsuit filed by former anchor Gretchen Carlson, who alleged that Ailes made repeated sexual advances towards her, and then penalized her for not accepting those advances. Ailes denied these claims, and the case was eventually settled in return for a payment of $20 million.
Other former Fox News hosts have since come forward to make similar allegations, including Tantaros, who used to be the co-host of an afternoon show called Outnumbered. She claims she was harassed by Ailes as well as other Fox executives, including host Bill O’Reilly. Those claims have also been denied by the defendants in the case.
An internal investigation that was launched by Fox News’ parent company 21st Century Fox in the wake of the Carlson lawsuit revealed that more than 20 current and former hosts and other staff had been harassed by Ailes.
In at least some cases, allegations of harassment were handled by making payments to Ailes’ accusers, including one that gave former show-booker Laurie Luhn a $3.15-million settlement in 2011. Luhn claimed that she had been harassed by Ailes over a period of 20 years. The payment reportedly never appeared in any financial filings made by Fox News or its parent company.
Note:This post was updated at 6:09 p.m. on February 16 to remove a reference to a Wall Street Journal report on the investigation into Fox News, because the Journal report was based on inaccurate information.