Rep. Devin Nunes filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday against CNN for its Nov. 22 “demonstrably false hit piece” that said the California Republican traveled to Vienna in 2018 to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
“Devin Nunes did not go to Vienna or anywhere else in Austria in 2018,” declares the lawsuit seeking $435 million in damages. He said he visited two countries: Libya and Malta on a congressional delegation, or “codel.”
The CNN story said Mr. Nunes supposedly met with former Ukrainian chief prosecutor Viktor Shokin.
“Devin Nunes has never met Viktor Shokin,” says the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond. “This meeting never took place. Viktor Shokin doesn’t know and hasn’t even heard of Devin Nunes.”
CNN also reported that Mr. Nunes began communicating with Lev Parnas around the time. He is a Soviet-born U.S. citizen and Florida businessman who became a source for Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney. Mr. Giuliani was investigating Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election
“Devin Nunes did not communicate with Parnas in December 2018,” the suit states.
DOCUMENT: Read the defamation lawsuit Rep. Devin Nunes filed against CNN
“CNN is the mother of fake news,” the lawsuit says. “It is the least trusted name. CNN is eroding the fabric of America, proselytizing, sowing distrust and disharmony. It must be held accountable.”
The lawsuit says CNN’s source was Mr. Parnas. He is now under house arrest after being charged by federal prosecutors with illegally donating foreign money to U.S. political campaigns and committees as a way to gain influence.
Mr. Nunes said that once Mr. Parnas made bail, his goal was to concoct stories that might win him immunity from prosecution.
“It was obvious to everyone — including disgraceful CNN — that Parnas was a fraudster and a hustler,” the lawsuit says. “It was obvious that his lies were part of a thinly-veiled attempt to obstruct justice and to trick either the United States Attorney or House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff into offering ‘immunity’ in return for ‘information’ about Plaintiff — a prominent United States Congressman and Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee.”
The lawsuit says Mr. Parnas made up other stories. He told CNN that after Mr. Giuliani introduced him to Mr. Trump at a White House Hanukkah party, he huddled privately with the president to discuss a mission to find dirt on Mr. Biden.
Mr. Giuliani says Mr. Parnas attended a one-minute photo op and there was no meeting.
For a public figure such as Mr. Nunes, the bar is high for winning a libel suit. The plaintiff must show that not only a story was false but also that the news organization knew it was wrong or had “actual malice.”
Mr. Nunes says CNN should have known the Vienna tale was false.
“From all the evidence in its possession, CNN was well-aware that Parnas was a renowned liar, a fraudster, a hustler, an opportunist with delusions of grandeur, a man in financial in extremis laboring under the weight of a $500,000 civil judgment, and an indicted criminal defendant with a clear motive to lie,” his lawsuit says.
The complaint says all of Mr. Parnas’ allegations to CNN came through his New York attorney, Joseph A. Bondy.
The lawsuit says that on his congressional trip from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018, Mr. Nunes visited two countries: Libya, and the city of Benghazi; and Malta, where he met with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to “discuss security and intelligence issues related to Malta.” He also attended a repatriation ceremony for a fallen World War II Army Air Corps member. The court filing includes photographs of Mr. Nunes meeting officials in both countries.
“At no time during his visits to Libya or Malta did Plaintiff or his staff ever meet any Ukrainians or have any discussions with anyone about the Bidens,” the suit says.
According to the Democrats’ impeachment report released Tuesday, Mr. Nunes and Mr. Parnas did have contact on one day at least — April 12, 2019. An examination of Mr. Parnas’ cellphone showed he called Mr. Nunes in a one-minute call. Later, they spoke for 8:34, phone records indicate.
At the time, Mr. Parnas was working with Mr. Giuiliani in investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter over business dealings in Ukraine.
After Mr. Nunes announced plans to sue CNN last month, Mr. Bondy told The Washington Times: “I read Rep. Nunes’ remarks with close care. I remind him that, in addition to a free press, one of the cornerstones of our democracy is that a person is presumed innocent unless and until — if ever — they are proven guilty by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Mr. Parnas has been charged in New York with Federal Election Act violations, and his indictment is not a conviction.”
“His evidence and potential testimony is nonpartisan and not intended to be part of a battle between the left and the right, but rather an aid in the determination by our government of what is in the best interests of our nation,” Mr. Bondy said.
Mr. Nunes has portrayed himself as being targeted by the liberal news media ever since he began investigating the role a Democratic Party-funded dossier, sourced to the Kremlin. Democrats used the unverified anti-Trump charges during and after the campaign. Hillary Clinton agents delivered the dossier to the FBI, which relied on it as a guide in its investigation.
He has sued Twitter and the McClatchy news service for defamation. He also plans to sue The Daily Beast over its Parnas story.