Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., filed a lawsuit Tuesday against CNN, seeking $435,350,000 in damages and claiming that the outlet defamed him last month when it published a “demonstrably false hit piece.”
The Nov. 22 story reported that in December 2018, while serving as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes traveled to Vienna and met with Ukrainian former prosecutor general Victor Shokin to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden, which Nunes’ complaint says is untrue.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleged violations of Virginia’s law against insults and said CNN reporter Vicky Ward, who wrote the article, and anchor Chris Cuomo, who discussed its details on air, conspired with the network “to boost CNN’s ratings and further the House Democrats’ impeachment ‘inquiry.'”
“In promoting fake news about secret meetings in Vienna with a corrupt former Ukraine prosecutor, CNN pandered to lurid curiosity,” the complaint said. “CNN is the mother of fake news. It is the least trusted name. CNN is eroding the fabric of America, proselytizing, sowing distrust and disharmony. It must be held accountable.”
Speaking Tuesday to FOX host Sean Hannity, Nunes claimed he was not in Vienna at the time. Instead, he said, he was in Benghazi meeting with a general and then in Malta participating in a “repatriation ceremony” for a slain American soldier. Pictures that he says were taken on the visits flashed on-screen.
Before publishing the story, CNN asked Nunes to comment, but he declined repeated requests, according to the article.
Nunes told Hannity that does not respond to any questions from CNN in protest of other “fake news” stories on him.
The story relied on an account from Lev Parnas, a now-indicted business associate of Rudy Giuliani, relayed to CNN by Joseph Bondy, Parnas’ attorney. Bondy has said his client would be willing to tell Congress that he learned from Shokin directly that he and Nunes met in Vienna last year.
Nunes’ 47-page complaint accused Parnas of manufacturing a narrative that he hoped would help him negotiate a deal with federal prosecutors or obtain immunity from Congress, and it argued that it was “obvious to everyone – including disgraceful CNN – that Parnas was a fraudster and a hustler.”
Nunes questioned Parnas’s credibility by calling him an “indicted criminal,” yet quoted Igor Fruman, Parnas’ co-defendant who faces the same charges, as evidence that Parnas’s version of events was untrue.
Records disclosed Tuesday in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry report show phone calls between Nunes and Giuliani as well as between Nunes and Parnas earlier this year. Nunes affirmed on “Hannity” that he has spoken with Giuliani but said the recordings would reveal no wrongdoing.
“They’re welcome to play them,” he said.
He added that “it’s possible” he has spoken with Parnas but that he “doesn’t really recall” the man’s name and has not gone through his records.
“We have Americans and foreigners contacting us every single day with information” on the House Intelligence Committee, he said.
According to Nunes, CNN published the defamatory statements with two goals: to harm his reputation and “cause him to be removed from the impeachment inquiry.”
“CNN harbors an institutional hatred, extreme bias, spite and ill-will toward [Nunes], the GOP and President Trump,” the lawsuit claimed.
As the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes was the face of Trump’s defense throughout the two weeks of public hearings that preceded CNN’s November article. Since then, critics have said he should have recused himself from the impeachment inquiry months ago.
A CNN spokesperson declined to comment Tuesday and did not immediately respond to an inquiry Wednesday morning about Nunes’ comments on FOX. Nunes’ attorney did not respond to The Washington Post’s request Tuesday.
CNN is the most recent defendant in a handful of defamation suits filed by the lawmaker this year.
In March, Nunes filed a $250 million lawsuit against Twitter, claiming the platform, two parody Twitter accounts and a Republican political consultant defamed him with mean tweets. He sued the McClatchy news organization, alleging defamation in August, and sued Ryan Lizza and Hearst Magazines for $77 million two months later, claiming that a story in Esquire about the Nunes family farm in Iowa defamed him.
Tuesday’s lawsuit against CNN delivered on a threat to sue that Nunes made last month during an appearance on Fox News.