Rep. Devin Nunes filed a defamation lawsuit against CNN in federal court on Tuesday in which he is seeking $435,350,000 in damages.
The California Republican alleges that CNN – which the lawsuit describes as “the mother of fake news” – published a “demonstrably false hit piece” on him when it reported on Nov. 22 that a lawyer for Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, said his client was willing to testify that Nunes met with last year with a former Ukrainian prosecutor in Vienna in an effort to get dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.
In the 47-page filing, Nunes says he never traveled to Austria in 2018 and that he never met with or spoke to Viktor Shokin, the former prosecutor. The lawsuit says that during the time Parnas claimed Nunes was in Vienna, the congressman was actually in Libya and Malta. Pictures from those trips are included in the filing.
Shokin also denied meeting with Nunes after the CNN report.
CNN tried several times to contact Nunes about the report prior to publication but the congressman has refused to speak with the network or any of its reporters since 2017. In his filing, Nunes claims CNN ran the story as an “unmitigated act of retaliation against” him because he refuses to talk to the network “and this angers CNN.”
CNN did not immediately reply to USA TODAY’s request for comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also disputes CNN’s reporting that Nunes spoke with Parnas around the time of his alleged trip to Vienna (Nov. 30 to Dec. 3). But phone records released Tuesday in the draft impeachment report from three House committees showed Nunes and Parnas exchanged several calls on April 12, including one that lasted more than eight minutes.
Nunes is one of the more litigious members of Congress. In 2018, he sued the McClatchy newspaper company for $150 million over a Fresno Bee report on a winery that Nunes has a stake in allegedly hosting a work function that included prostitutes and cocaine.
Last month, he filed a lawsuit against Esquire magazine’s publisher Hearst and reporter Ryan Lizza for an article about his family farm moving to Iowa in 2007.
In March, he filed a $250 million lawsuit against Twitter, accusing the social media company of burying conservative content. In that lawsuit, he also named as defendants two parody accounts based on mocking him: Devin Nunes’ Cow and Devin Nunes’ Mom.
When Nunes filed the lawsuit, the Devin Nunes’ Cow account had less than 2,000 followers. It now has more than 675,000
Nunes’ lawsuit against CNN criticizes the organization for reporting Parnas’ claims as true without questioning the credibility of the source, who is under indictment for allegedly funneling foreign money to U.S. politicians. The lawsuit claims that Parnas, with “full knowledge of press accounts of the impeachment inquiry,” had “started to manufacture stories that he believed would assist him in obtaining a deal” from federal prosecutors.
Nunes is the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee and, as one of Trump’s most outspoken supporters in Congress, he used the position to lead the president’s defense in the committee’s hearings in the impeachment inquiry against Trump. The lawsuit alleges CNN published “the false and defamatory statements” as “part of a scheme to boost CNN’s ratings and further the House Democrats’ impeachment ‘inquiry.'”
Trump is accused of withholding military aid to pressure Ukraine into opening investigations into any Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and whether Biden shielded an energy company from prosecution because his son, Hunter Biden, was on its executive board.
Officials in the U.S. and Ukraine who previously looked at any role the Bidens played in the energy company, Burisma, did not believe they were guilty of any wrongdoing. But some of Biden’s critics allege, without evidence, that the former vice president pushed for Shokin – who was in charge of an anti-corruption effort at the time – to be replaced because he was investigating Burisma.
Yet, Biden was echoing a demand from many European diplomats and international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, who wanted Shokin out because he was not doing enough to combat corruption.
Still, Nunes and other Intelligence Committee Republicans repeatedly called for the Bidens to testify before the committee, in an effort to show that Trump wanted them investigated not because it would benefit him politically but because he had legitimate concerns about corruption.
Nunes’ lawsuit alleges that “CNN harbors an institutional hatred, extreme bias, spite and ill-will towards Plaintiff, the GOP and President Trump, going back many years.” And it claims that CNN filed the story about Parnas’ allegations “in retaliation and reprisal” for Nunes’ “defense of President Trump at the impeachment inquiry.”
Parnas’ attorney Edward MacMahon told USA TODAY that the two discussed investigations into corruption in Ukraine.
During an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday night, Nunes said “it’s possible” he spoke with Parnas.
“I haven’t gone through all my phone records. I don’t really recall that name. I remember the name now because he’s been indicted,” he said. “I’ll go back and check all my records but it seems very unlikely that I would be taking calls from random people.”
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian, Nicholas Wu and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register; Joshua Yeager, Visalia Times-Delta